February 18, 2007
Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight o Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Diane O'dell asked me to preach today in Kimberly's absence on mission and outreach and when she called I thought "that's a subject that should be easy for me" and I accepted and I was glad she asked me. I set about studying for this sermon and between Walker's athletics and injuries, issues with our teenagers, and my day job my confidence that I could prepare and deliver a thoughtful, meaningful message that would be worthy of your Sunday worship on this subject began to alarm me. As my teenagers would say it was like WOW — this is the heart of Jesus' message for us. How do I bring this home for the congregation in 20 minutes or so in a coherent way? Well as of last night I'm thrilled Diane asked …I'm really am honored and glad to be here. If you want to comprehend a particular subject in depth volunteer to do a sermon. This has been a tremendous experience for me and with God's help we will have an interesting morning.
God gave Jesus to the world as a sacrifice to save us from sin. The object was to fulfill prophecy, to reform Judaism, to provide a new covenant, to provide the Holy Spirit and save believers from death to sin; To show believers the way to a new relationship with God.
Jesus' life and times here on earth gave rise to the four gospels-these were God inspired anonymous recountings of his life with four different emphases. These are believed to have been copied from oral stories 30 to 50 years after the crucifixion. We have no original gospel documents but it is clear that they represented the word of God in memorializing the life of Jesus. I should be able to find a preachable message here.
So I started by reviewing the Gospels to find what I felt was the most sermon worthy scripture. Now, there is no shortage of “doing unto others” scripture- but Matthew 25:31-46 which Jerry read for you this morning jumped out at me. Here is Jesus talking directly about most of the things we think of as mission. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking in strangers, visiting prisoners and the sick. That should cover it all. We have all heard this passage about the final judgment many times before mostly in contexts of extorting some mission participation out of us.
But as I began to study it for my sermon it was like the classic onion with layer after layer of meaning. First for me, or the outside layer for relating to the importance of this passage is context, the real time circumstances of Jesus, the setting the scene-who, what , when, and where. This crucial scene really starts at Matthew 24:3 and is a small but very pivotal point between two distinct periods in Jesus' time in Jerusalem.
Remember the time he has spent in Jerusalem to this point he's spent teaching, imploring, and beseeching the Jews about prophecy, about their faith and reform in their religion, about judgment and salvation. He has been political, he has been a radical, he has been abrasive. He has been busy chasing moneychangers out of the temple and challenging the Pharisees. But also remember that there were no Christians no Methodists, Catholics or Presbyterians around. To this point in Matthew this has been about the Jews. (but Stay tuned he has a surprise for us) He has just finished preaching in the temple and predicted it's destruction. What he looks forward to now is the Last Supper, betrayal, Gethsemane, arrest and crucifixion. And resurrection.
He leaves the temple and he goes up to the Mount of Olives. And here at Matthew 24:3 the disciples come to him privately, Matthew says privately, and they ask (read Matthew 24:3) Do you think they are a little nervous? This is to be the last time except, for the last supper, that he is with the disciples in private until the resurrection. SO This IS THE SCENE.
Now we are at the next layer.His answer to the disciples. Matthew writes two chapters for this answer.
Jesus begins answering the disciples and at 24:29 after describing some of the signs of his coming (read Matthew 24:29-30) and after several more parables about heaven he GETS TO OUR PASSAGE.
Here in this nearly last time together alone with the disciples just before the Last Supper, betrayal, and arrest he utters these last words to them in private. He describes for these nervous disciples HIS COMING AND FINAL JUDGMENT—AND this friends is not a PARABLE.
HE DESCRIBES FINAL JUDGING CLEARLY AS BASED ON WORKS—MISSION —DID YOU FEED ME WHEN I WAS HUNGRY, DID YOU VISIT ME IN PRISON, DID YOU CLOTHE ME— JUDGMENT—THE KINGDOM OR ETERNAL PUNISHMENT—BASED ON WORKS—GOOD DEEDS.
He doesn't describe a trial or an exposition of evidence—this is a judgement.
"Whoa, wait a minute!", you are going to say, "WHAT'S GOING ON HERE—WHAT ABOUT FAITH AND GRACE what about the gentle and loving Jesus?" AND wait there is more JESUS SAYS ALL THE NATIONS ARE GOING TO BE AT THE FINAL JUDGMENT NOT JUST THE JEWS.
And wait, what does this “as you did this for the least of these brothers of mine you did it for me” mean? And sheep and goats?
That gets us to the middle of the onion, which is the message in this passage. What does Jesus mean?
First, lets deal with who will be at the final judgment. Who is going to be at the meeting. Here in this private gathering just before the final hours of his life he lets on to the disciples that his purpose here on earth is to all the nations. They are all going to be at the final judgment. And Remember that just 4 or 5 days later Jesus delivers the great commission to the disciples after the resurrection at Matthew 28:16 to “Go to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples.” But he lets them know here first.
Can you imagine? Here at this small gathering with his nervous disciples he delivers this news. This is not about our small tribe of Jews this is about the whole world. But we can't leave it there. Let's consider who does that mean “all the nations”. Does that mean Buddhists and Muslims and non-believers. It doesn't answer that question here but on your behalf I took this question to the ultimate authority—my bible study class and the answer is yes we will all be there. God will find a way for everyone to be at the final judgment.
What about being judged by good works—the real subject of my visit with you today?
Jesus is talking here about obeying. That's the meaning of sheep and goats. Sheep are docile and obedient while goats are unruly and stubborn. And it shouldn't come as a surprise that we will be judged by our deeds. Jesus tells us many times to treat one another as we would expect to be treated period. Finally judged by how we treat one another!!
"But what about grace and faith?" you say; What about being saved by grace and faith? You can be saved but here we are talking about judgment. But grace and faith play a role.
Friends what he's telling the disciples and us is that if we accept God's offer of grace, have faith, listen to the Holy Spirit and obey-that we say SEND ME—good works will be the PROOF.
And what about “as you have done these things for the least of these brothers of mine you have done it for me”. Here again this should be no surprise as we are all the body of Christ—the poor, sick, imprisoned are just as much the body of Christ as we are.
But look it at another way that these good works of obedience for the body of Christ are part and parcel of making disciples. Doing it for Jesus to make disciples. Our United Methodist Discipline says it well at page 90 in paragraph 128 in the paragraphs describing our mission and the ministry of all Christians.(read paragraph 128) Convincing unbelievers to be disciples by example. Remember the commission to make disciples.
Now here's the thing. Nobody here or that I know of can say this or that will make you a sheep or goat. Only you and Jesus will know about your conversations with the holy spirit. But I think I can say this much that the things that come up in your conversations with the holy spirit that you are called to do that will impress Jesus—the more they make you uncomfortable, are unpleasant, and are maybe downright disgusting the closer you are to impressing him. Motivations to works based on acclaim, acceptance, greed or pride are further away.
So here is the wrap: At this pivotal point in Jesus' time in Jerusalem between preaching and beseeching and arrest and death he meets with his disciples privately and he discloses that his purpose and his call to the disciples is to all the world. That those who accept grace, have faith, obey the holy spirit , who say send me and do good works for the body of Christ—do it for Jesus—and thus also participate in making disciples—will inherit the kingdom of God. Those who don't won't.