Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on April 2, 2017
“On Which Side Will You Stand?”
Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46 and Daniel 12:5-10
A man was walking along the beach when he stumbled upon a magic lamp. When he rubbed it a genie appeared who said he would grant one wish. Immediately the man asked for a copy of the Wall Street Journal stock market report, one year in the future. Suddenly the paper appeared and the genie disappeared. With greedy eyes the man scanned the columns and identified the stocks in which he could invest and make millions of dollars. Pleased with his shrewd plan and wise choices, he turned the page of the paper only to find his own obituary.
Obviously the story is fictitious, but it serves a purpose of assisting our understanding of Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. The parable is about Jesus’ coming on Judgment Day; that future event when He will separate believers from unbelievers. The Bible indicates that Jesus’ disciples had a fear of Judgment Day (Matthew 24:2-3). They were naturally worried about whether they would be accepted or rejected on that fateful day.
To allay their fear and offer hope, Jesus told them the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Mt. 25:31-46). In this parable Jesus teaches His followers to (1) remain in true faith, and (2) carry out the responsibilities He has given them no matter what. The parable is actually straight forward. On that final judgment day, Jesus will appear in His glory before all the nations of the earth (25:31-32). He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The “sheep will be stationed on His right and the goats on His left” (25:33).
Jesus begins by recounting all the good done by the sheep and all the evil done by the goats. He tells the sheep that they “are blessed by my Father; receive your inheritance which God has planned for you…” (25:34). He reminds the sheep that they had fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, and visited Jesus’ followers in prison (25: 35-36). It was no trivial matter to offer assistance to Christians put in prison in Jesus’ day. The food in Roman prisons was horrible: moldy bread and putrid water. If you were arrested on a warm day and later the weather turned cold, no one turned on the heat or gave you a blanket. If you got sick and died from cold and hunger, oh well, it was your fault for being in prison. What benefit could there be in a person helping someone rotting away in a Roman jail cell?
Nevertheless, imagine yourself walking up to a Roman guard and asking if you could give your Christian friend a little food and a warm blanket. Would you be scared? It would take an amazing amount of love and faith to do such a thing! Faith to love others as Jesus loved you; faith that Jesus was protecting you every moment of every day; and faith that He would preserve you until you were safe in Heaven.
Yet, how did the sheep respond to Jesus’ recounting of their righteous actions? Listen to their incredible words of humility and surprise: “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?” (25:37-39).
Despite their saintly actions, the sheep, or Jesus’ faithful followers, still felt unworthy. In other words, the sheep recognized all the bad things they had done in life and did not think their simple acts of obedience deserved much credit. Growing in God’s Word does that to a person. It makes us much more aware of our little sins in thought, word and deed. We are constantly humbled by the sins which continue to plague us, and which regularly remind us of our desperate need for a Savior. The things which Jesus has told us to do are not done to earn His favor and earn a “Good Guy” merit badge. Rather, we obey Christ’s instructions out of love for Him!
God made us His children by sending Jesus and giving us faith. Heaven is not our reward for a life of hard work. Heaven is our inheritance. It’s a free gift earned for us by Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 6:22-23). The more we focus on who we are, the more we are freed to not worry about ourselves. Instead, we increasingly look to the needs of others. Then, as we go about helping others – not to earn some eternal payback – but to show God’s amazing love in Christ, Jesus counts all we do as having been done for Him (Mt. 25:40).
Sadly, there is another group in the parable whom Jesus identifies as “the goats.” Jesus has nothing good to say to them or about them. We must be careful judging the goats for they considered themselves good people. Incredibly, the goats premised their innocence upon the fact that they never saw “Jesus” hungry or thirsty, needing clothes, or in prison” (v. 44). In some respects it is possible the goats did a lot of good. But it was not done out of love for Christ and to glorify Him. Maybe their good deeds were done to receive a slap on the back, or assure themselves that they were good people. But if there was nothing in it for them, forget it! They wouldn’t do it. Why take a chance. The goats had figured that their every virtuous act would be counted to their credit on the Day of Judgment.
Somewhere in our DNA we have imprinted the notion that God will judge the world on the last day with a large 2-column ledger system. On one side will be listed all the “Good” we have done. On the other side will be a record of our “Bad” deeds. Deep in our psyche is the idea that as long as my “Good” column exceeds my “Bad” column, I’ll be okay. Our perception could not be farther from the truth.
Jesus tells us exactly what the Day of Judgment will be like. We all will stand before God naked, as it were, in the unfettered corruption of our flesh. We will learn how our every act has been tainted by selfishness and pride. So often our good works were meant to impress God of our worthiness. We dare not proclaim our righteousness as the reason God should accept us into His Eternal Kingdom.
Rather, in humility, we gather like the sheep in Jesus’ parable around God’s Judgment throne, confessing our unworthiness. Then Jesus offers an amazing judgment: “I took your faith in Me, and sanctified your deeds of feeding the hungry, loving your spouse and children, and being a friend to the needy, so others would experience my love. Well done. Come and receive your inheritance.”
But, you say, what about my sins? What about all those times I did not feed the hungry or extend compassion to the needy? What about those times I was angry with God, and I took God’s grace for granted? What about those times when I confessed my sin and then committed the same sin again? Aren’t I condemned for my sin?
There is an old legend about a man named Martin of Tours (316-397 A.D.). Martin was at home one day when there came a knocking at his door. Standing at the door was a man who claimed to be Jesus. Martin suspected that the man might actually be the devil who had come to tempt him. Martin decided to put him to the test by asking, “What sin is that it most often grips my life that I must confess it over and over again?” Without hesitation the man at the door said, “I don’t remember! I don’t remember!” At which, Martin welcomed his Lord into his home.
On Judgment Day Jesus will not remember your sins. That sinful side of your life story will have been washed away by His blood on the Cross. More than that, you will be astonished by all the good Jesus Christ brought forth from your life.