The Sermon for Sunday November 26th, 2017, the Festival of Christ the King & Sunday before Advent
The Lessons: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Matthew 25:31-46
Text: Matthew 25:31-46
Topic: How we treat the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters is important.
Sally took a seminary class taught by Professor Smith, who was known for his object lessons. One day, Sally walked into class to find a large target placed on the wall and several darts on a nearby table. Professor Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone they disliked or who had made them angry – then they could throw darts at the person’s picture.
Sally’s friend drew a picture of a woman who had stolen her boyfriend. Another friend drew a picture of his younger brother. Sally drew a detailed picture of Professor Smith, including pimples on his face. She was quite pleased with her effort.
The class lined up and began throwing darts. Some students threw with such force that they ripped apart their targets. But before Sally had a turn, Professor Smith asked the students to return to their seats so he could begin his lecture. As Sally fumed, the professor began removing the target from the wall.
Underneath it was a picture of Jesus. A hush fell over the room as students saw the mangled image of their Savior with holes and jagged marks covering his face. His eyes were virtually pierced out.
Professor Smith said only these words: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
(p. 85, Lee Rhodes, Wheeler, Michigan: “Throwing darts at the enemy,” in Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof: 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Zondervan, 2008)
THE LAST JUDGMENT
The Last Judgment inspired many ancient works of art by the old masters, among them Michelangelo, who painted his impression of the Last Judgment on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel between 1536 and 1541. When Pope Paul III first saw the Last Judgment at its unveiling, his response was, according to report, to fall to his knees, crying, “Lord, charge me not with my sins when thou shalt come on the Day of Judgment”
(Chapter II, John W. Dixon, Jr.: The Terror of Salvation, The Last Judgment, http://www.crucifixion.com/visual/theology/johndixon/terror.htm).
The Second Lesson from St. Matthew’s Gospel presents the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Judge of all the nations of the world on the Last Day. Though this passage is called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, it is only the Lord’s act of separating all people into two groups as a Palestinian shepherd would separate sheep from goats that gives it its name. In all other respects, this is a true account of what happens at the Last Judgment. This passage testifies to the coming again of the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ in his glory, and all the angels with him. For this reason, the Nicene Creed contains the statement, “And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.” All the angels of heaven and all people who have ever lived on this earth are witnesses to this Judgment. It will be impossible for any of us human beings to hide anything from this Judge or to make any adequate excuse before Him, for His searching gaze knows and comprehends everything and everyone completely. All the evidence the Lord Jesus needs about everyone is recorded in heaven. For in the Book of Revelation we read:
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
We may be sure that all sins which we have confessed before God and from which we have genuinely repented will be forgiven because of Christ’s holy blood which He shed for the redemption of mankind. The record of such sins will be erased from the heavenly record books, but those sins in which people have stubbornly persisted, refusing repentance, will remain on record.
In the two parables preceding this one, there are other factors which appear as criteria for judgment, such as spiritual readiness and prayer, as well as the wise use of the spiritual and other gifts and abilities God has given us. But here in this Parable one criterion clearly emerges, and that is, at first glance, how we treat other people. If we examine the phrase “the least of these my brethren,” we shall see that its primary meaning is the least important of Jesus’ followers, who do the will of their heavenly Father. But because in this Parable, neither the righteous nor the unrighteous seem to be able to discern the Lord Jesus Christ in the people they help or refuse to help, we should treat all people kindly! Indeed, our Lord teaches us to love those we do not know, and even our enemies. We know that those who are hostile to Christians tend to treat them with disfavor, or even to reject and to persecute them.
The overriding criterion here is how we treat the Lord Jesus Christ in this life as we find him in others, in their situations of need. If we deliberately and continually close our hearts to Christians in need, we run the risk of eternal hell. For the Lord Jesus Christ intends His Church to be one big family in which all share with one another to meet one another’s needs.
The crucial question we must ask of ourselves is this. Is God satisfied with the way in which we treat our fellow-Christians in particular? Do we care about those Christians who are in particular situations of need, as shown in this Parable? What can we do to be more supportive of our brothers and sisters in Christ?