Sermon for Sunday, November 22nd, 2020, the Festival of Christ the King, or Sunday next before Advent
The Lessons: Psalm 95; Ezekiel 34:11-20; Matthew 25:31-46
The Text: Matthew 25:31-46
The Topic: What did you do for the least of these my brothers and sisters?
Two boys were walking through the woods looking for walnuts. Along the way, they filled their buckets, shirts, pockets, and whatever else they could. When they could hold no more nuts, they started down the country road until they came to the cemetery. The boys decided this was as good a place as any to stop and rest and divide out the nuts.
The two boys sat in the shade of a large tree and dumped all of their nuts into a large pile. In the process, two of the nuts rolled away and rested near the road. The boys then proceeded to divide out the nuts. “One for you; one for me. One for you; one for me.” As they were doing this, another boy was passing by and happened to hear them. He looked into the cemetery but could not see the boys, because they were obscured by the tree. He hesitated a moment and then ran back to town. “Dad, Dad!” he yelled as he entered his house. “The cemetery. Come quick!”
“What’s wrong?” his father asked.
“Can’t explain now,” the boy frantically panted. “Let’s just go!” The boy and his father ran up the country road and stopped when they reached the cemetery. They stopped at the side of the road and became quiet for a few moments. Then the father asked his son what was wrong.
“Do you hear that?” he whispered. Both listened intently until they heard the boys. “One for me; one for you. One for me; one for you.”
The boy then exclaimed, “The devil and the Lord are dividing the souls!”
The father was skeptical but silent – until a few moments later as the boys completed dividing out the nuts and one boy said to the other, “Now as soon as we get those two nuts down by the road, we’ll have them all.”1
The Lord does indeed have us all, but after the Last Judgment there is an eternal separation between those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and those who do not.
THE SEPARATION OF SOULS ON JUDGMENT DAY: MATTHEW 25:31-46
In all three parables in Matthew 25, there is a separation of people. In the Parable of the Ten Maidens, there is a separation between those who are ready for the bridegroom and those who are not, in the Parable of the Talents, a separation between those servants who invest or trade with their master’s money to make profit, and the one who hides his master’s money and does not use it, and in this parable, a separation between the sheep and the goats. The separation of the sheep and the goats alludes to Ezekiel 34:17-19, in which God, through the prophet, berates the rams and the he-goats for oppressing the rest of the flock, which means that the oppression of the weaker members of Israel by the stronger ones is judged by God and found to be reprehensible.
THE CRITERION FOR JUDGMENT
Now here in this parable, it is people from all nations who are being judged on their behavior. It is not made clear in this parable that only non-Christians are being judged, or only Christians. People of all nations, whatever their faith or beliefs, are being judged and separated as sheep from goats. The criterion the Lord Jesus Christ uses is how each one has treated Him in “the least of these my brethren” (Matthew 25:40). At this point, we could ask, as a lawyer did on an occasion which led Jesus to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37), “And who is my neighbor?” Here we could ask, “Who are the least of the Lord’s brethren?” The Lord’s brethren are Christians, but because anyone who is not a Christian might later become one, and because all people are loved by God and Christ died for people of all nations, we must conclude it is right to do the works of mercy listed in this parable for any person in need. Of course, this parable warns everyone of the importance of showing kindness to everyone in need, since the Lord Jesus Christ suffers rejection when the least of his brothers or sisters is rejected. Having emphasized this, however, we must concede that there are so many countries in the world where Christians are suffering persecution, poverty, discrimination, oppression, opposition and rejection from governments and religious groups, and that many times the human messengers of Christ have gone hungry, thirsty, homeless, without enough clothes in cold weather, friendless, with no welcome from those to whom God has sent them, some tortured in prison for years, with no visitors, some forgotten by the world and by their fellow-Christians.
The good news that the Lord Jesus Christ brings in this parable is that Judgment Day brings an end to the seemingly endless mistreatment and persecution of Christians and others in the world. All who have mistreated people without repentance and made life hell for them will themselves be consigned to the eternal fire of hell. Hell was not originally intended for mankind, but for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41b), who rebelled against God. Hell is not a place where souls cease to exist, for that would be the doctrine of annihilationism, but where they live in unceasing torment. This is a very sobering consideration. Yet it is part of the reality of God’s justice, for a whole new world is created for the righteous who receive eternal life, but that whole world is completely cleansed of all wickedness, oppression and injustice, so that there may be no more consciousness or memory of evil, and therefore no more pain, grief, or sorrow for the righteous in Christ.
It is significant that this is the final parable of the Lord Jesus Christ before the Passion Narrative in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. It is as if the Lord is warning all who have a hand in his own Passion and death, as well all who oppose and mistreat any of his brothers and sisters on earth, that they will suffer eternal consequences of their actions, unless they repent.
In conclusion, how will you treat the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters, and what will you do to meet their needs?
1 p. 350, Len Jones & Dennis Daniel: The Big Book of Church Jokes. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing, 2009.