January 1, 2023 |His Glorious Throne| Matthew 25:31-46
January 1st, the beginning of a new year, New Years Day
A time of new beginnings, a time for reflection, setting of goals.
Statistically 44% of people make new year’s resolutions (81% fail by February)
For most of us it feels like a small reset, a fresh start, and a perfect time to look forward.
In doing so today, I want to look beyond resolutions, beyond even the coming year, and examine that glorious day when Jesus returns.
The Bible leaves many of our questions concerning Jesus’ return unanswered, but one of the things that we know from Jesus himself is that when he returns, there will be a great judgment. In our text today, for his disciples, Jesus pulls back the curtain of eternity and tells them what to expect when he returns.
If you think about it, it is kind of like the teacher giving you the answers to the upcoming test. Right? Jesus, the one who will ultimately judge all people, tells us what is going to happen.
Let’s bring back the idea of resolutions for a second. They involve three things, right? Where we want to end up, where we are, and what it is going to take to get there.
I want to be better with my finances, I currently spend too much, my resolution is to save more and spend less.
I want to get in shape, I currently don’t make time to work out and eat too much cheesecake, my resolution is to work out and eat better.
Jesus shows us today where we are going to end up and we know where we currently are, the only thing left is to determine how to get there, right?
As we move towards the return of Jesus, what should our lives look like?
We once again turn to the book of Matthew and the Olivet Discourse, to Jesus’s final sermon to his disciples. We find our text at the end of Jesus’s teachings on the end of the age and his second coming.
He has warned the disciples about being deceived, he has taught about the coming hardships and judgment on Israel, he has taught about his second coming, both the suddenness of it and the finality of it. He has exhorted his disciples to stay awake, to be watchful and obedient like a good servant. And then he describes the coming kingdom with two parables.
The parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents.
Each one emphasizes a different side of the same coin.
One group of seemingly same people, divided by their actions of preparation
Five foolish and five wise
Bridegroom was delayed
Difference was preparation to greet the bridegroom
A group of servants entrusted with the master’s funds
Master is gone a long time
Faithfulness in dealing with the master’s finances equals rewards
One who did nothing with what the master entrusted was cast out
Then Jesus gives this final parable concerning sheep and goats, it is to this parable we turn this morning. Matthew 25:31
If Jesus’s intentions are to prepare the disciples for his return and how they should live in light of that day then I would like to share with you three lessons I believe Jesus is giving us in being prepared for his second coming.
The certainty of his return (vs 31-32)
Matthew 25:31-32 (ESV) 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
Notice that Jesus begins this parable with a statement of fact. ‘When the son of man comes…’
Not ‘if he comes’, or ‘in the event he comes’, but when he comes. Jesus, in no uncertain terms, here at the culmination of his teaching on his return, says it is not a matter of if but when.
Furthermore, Jesus gives us more details in this short concise statement.
Jesus will return to the earth personally, in glory, with the angels, at which time he will sit on his glorious throne as the one true judge. After this there will be a great gathering of people like there has never been before. All the nations will be gathered before him, in revelations it says that even the dead from every corner of the world will be gathered. Every person will appear before the Lord.
Jesus then uses a parable to describe what will happen. Like the shepherd separates the sheep and the goats, Jesus will separate the people.
This picture would have been much more readily understood by his original audience, but since most of us are not familiar with shepherding, let’s take a minute to wrap our minds around it.
During the day shepherds would allow the sheep and goats to graze together, they would drive them together, but when it was time for them to go into the sheep pen for the night, they would separate them because if they were together they would not rest and the more aggressive goats would end up hurting the sheep. This week, I watched a video of a group of modern shepherds doing this with just their voice and lots of skill.
This picture is consistent with what Jesus has taught before.
Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV) 24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
Again, the certainty of the judgment, whether Jesus dividing the sheep and goats or the servants separating the wheat and weeds, is the emphasis. There will come a time when God’s people are separated out from the world. That is, when Jesus returns he will come to judge.
Will be different when he returns (recently celebrated his first coming) came as a baby, next will come as a king, came as a suffering servant, next will come as a conquering king, came to open the door to reconciliation, next will close it. Here and in various other places, scripture teaches that Jesus will return and when he does he will judge the living and the dead. Here Jesus uses the picture of separating the sheep from the goats, which is where our second lesson comes from.
First we have the certainty of his return, second we have…
The finality of his separation (vs 33-34, 41, 46)
Matthew 25:33-34 (ESV) 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Matthew 25:41 (ESV) 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Jesus places one group of people on his right, here called the sheep, and the others on his left, here called the goats. After separating them he pronounces two very different judgments on each. The contrast is apparent.
Come vs depart- Come further into my presence versus depart from me. This is similar language that Jesus used previously.
Matthew 7:22-23 (ESV) 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Blessed vs cursed- blessed by my Father verses you cursed
Inherit vs into- one is the language of receiving, one of being sent away with nothing
Kingdom prepared for you vs eternal fire prepared for the devil- from the foundation of the world. God’s plan from the beginning was to redeem his elect through his son Jesus Christ.
Our last contrast is found in verse 46.
Matthew 25:46 (ESV) 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Eternal punishment vs eternal life- both are described as everlasting. One the just reward for a life of sin, rebellion, and defiance of the one true God and one the free gift of everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life.
The thing I want us to see this morning is that when Jesus comes again, it will be too late to change sides. When Jesus comes, your decision has been made, and the consequences of your decision will play out. There are no second chances, no grading on a curve, and no make up work.
To return to a previous parable in chapter 25, the door is shut.
Matthew 25:10-12 (ESV) 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Or in the case of the talents, the master has returned, there is no more time for investments, it is the day of reckoning. No last minute deals. After telling the parable of the 10 virgins, Jesus issues this dire warning. Matthew 25:13 (ESV) 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Much of his teaching in the Olivet Discourse has had to do with the fact that we do not know when he will return, therefore to be prepared for his return is to be prepared at all times.
I know I am probably the only one that ever procrastinates here, but it’s true. Sometimes knowing the deadline is the worst thing I can know, because I will delay and put it off and find other stuff to do and then get it done quickly before the deadline. I’ve seen this in my own kids. Mom will tell them to clean up their rooms before she gets back and it isn’t until they hear her car doors close when she gets back that they jump up and start working on their rooms.
There is no room for that nonsense when we are talking about eternity. Jesus tells us that no one knows, there will be no last minute warnings or chances. That is why it is so important to know now which side you will be on when Jesus divides the people. It is a righteous judgment, it is a perfect judgment, and it is a final judgment.
It is to that judgment we turn now in our last lesson. First we have the certainty of his return, second we have the finality of his separation, and thirdly we have…
The familiarity of his judgment (vs 34-45)
Matthew 25:34-45 (ESV) 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
Some 34 references to Jesus in this short passage. This is a personal matter for Jesus.
To those on his right, Jesus commends their expressions of love made towards him…except they didn’t know that Jesus took them that way. Look, they are surprised that Jesus took these regular, everyday, compassions done out of love towards their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as personal.
They never gave Jesus food or drink, they never welcomed him into their home, clothed him, visited him when he was sick or imprisoned.
When did we do this for you Jesus? Jesus said, everytime you lovingly ministered to one of mine, it was as though you were doing it for me.
That’s powerful, isn’t it?
I want you to notice two things here.
Jesus so intimately identifies with his people that do love them is to love Jesus.
For Jesus, there is no deed to small when it is done in love and to meet a need.
These are lowly deeds. He doesn’t say, because you taught a Sunday school class for 25 years, or you gave regularly to the church, or you read your bible everyday, he says you met basic needs for the least of these. This is how I know that you are mine.
Think about that for a minute. No deed on this list is dependent on education level, religious background, social status, monetary wealth, right? Anyone, anywhere can do these things.
Now, these six things do not form an exhaustive list, but rather serve to illustrate the things that God’s people do for each other.
Then Jesus turns to those on his left and he repeats his list and they are just as surprised. Was their lack of loving action towards the people of Jesus really that important? I mean, sure they failed to love their neighbor but if Jesus had been present they surely would have ministered to him.
Jesus says it is that important.
Now, we need to stop here and ask a very important question. Is Jesus teaching a works-based righteousness? Of course not.
It is apparent throughout scripture that our only chance at redemption is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the rebirth that happens in the power of the Spirit. However, it is equally clear that those who have been born again will bear fruit consistent with their new nature.
There is tension here between works and faith but no conflict. Someone with a new heart, a heart made alive by the power of God and indwelled with his Spirit will love the things he loves, they will copy the things he modeled, they will show evidence of their faith by their works, here listed as loving acts of compassion on those in need around them, primarily those in the body of Christ.
Jesus so closely identifies with his people that to serve them is to serve Him. This connection confronted the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus didn’t it?
Acts 9:4-5 (ESV) “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Who was Paul persecuting? The church, more specifically, the people who make up the church.
Here is the difficult truth Jesus lays before his disciples, and therefore before us.
No matter what our confession is, if there is no fruit, we prove we are not his.
Furthermore, the fruit he is looking for is less religious and more relational.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
To say it another way, the question is not as often asked ‘do you know Jesus’, but ‘does Jesus know you?’
Notice that those on his right are surprised, that is, and don’t miss this, they did not do these things in order to gain entrance into heaven, they did them because of the love they had for Jesus as evidenced by how they treated the least of his people.
Here is why that is important as we close.
If what you get from today is that you need to try harder to love those around you; you need to participate in the next meal train, you need to volunteer at the highway 80 mission, you need to join a prison ministry this year, you missed the point.
If you know Jesus, then loving his people ought to come naturally.
The real question you need to ask yourself, is if Jesus came back right now, if I found myself standing before his throne today, does my life reflect the sheeps or the goats in this parable?
The lessons Jesus teaches us through this parable are simple.
His return is certain, his separation is final, and his judgment is from one who is intimately familiar with both your life and his people.