This week we come to the last of the statements dealing specifically with the person of Jesus Christ: “I believe in Jesus Christ . . . who ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father where he will come to judge the quick and the dead.” The creed reminds us that the cross and the resurrection are related to the ascension of Christ, his eventual return, and a judgment of all people. The gospel of Matthew of all the four gospels spends more time exploring what this future judgment will look like and most of the talk of judgment comes in the form of parables. Chapter 24 of Matthew talks about the return of Jesus for which we must watch, because despite many popular books to the contrary, we do not know the time or the season. Then in chapter 25, Jesus shares a series of parables that continue the theme while expanding to explore the judgment that accompanies that return. Our lesson this week comes as the third of these parables following the parable of the ten bridesmaids and the parable of the talents.
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And 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.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-461. The gospel of the Matthew is the only gospel that refers to “the church” and in it is in this gospel that we find the most references to the future judgment. In most of the parables and teachings related to the judgment, many people are surprised by how they are judged. In this scripture the sheep didn’t realize they were doing anything worthy of reward and the goats were unaware they were (or rather were not) doing anything worthy of punishment.
• Who do you think was Jesus’ intended audience for these stories?
• And what does that mean to those of us who are a part of his church?
2. Some people believe that God is more just than loving and that we must therefore “scare” people into a relationship with God with the threat of judgment. Others believe God is more loving than just and that therefore God must not be capable of punishing. Scripture, however, points toward a God who is both fully love and fully just.
• Where do you see a God of justice in this scripture?
• Where do you see the God of love? If God is both just and loving, how does that impact our understanding of judgment?
• Should Christians fear or eagerly anticipate the judgment to come?
Just some of my thoughts this Wednesday afternoon.
Image "The Last Judgment" by Eric Gill