This article is based on a sermon from November 2014 and uses the text from Matthew25:31-46 as its basis.
Can you remember being an occasion when as a child you were in trouble?
I was in third year at school – I’d forgotten to do a test that we’d been given as homework, and he was a particularly difficult teacher, I used to cycle the three miles to school and so scared was I of what would happen to me for not doing this test that I set off to school extra early next day, to make sure I was there before anybody else – I arrived a school, I couldn’t get into my classroom as the door was locked, but the window was open, so started I climbing in but just as I was doing so the caretaker caught me.
I was hauled in front of the head master and was given the Spanish Inquisition. In my eyes I’d done no wrong, I needed to do my homework, I had to pass this test, I was trying to do what I’d been asked to do – The head challenged me to think about what I had done – and that occasion has stayed with me all my life.
In the story told by Matthew the disciples had a fear of ‘Judgment Day’. You might find that surprising, they had been with Jesus for three years, knew him and loved him. They had seen His miracles, heard His teaching, and had been promised they would reign with Him in the life to come. How could it be that they might be afraid of Judgment Day?
Earlier that day they were in the temple and showed Jesus the huge stones out of which the temple was built. Jesus wasn’t impressed and said to them , “Not one will be left on top of another.” It likely that when the disciples heard this they thought of the prophesy by Daniel in chapter 7: God’s wrath is like a river in flood; cascading, tumbling, crashing down.
Later that night when they were alone with Jesus, they asked Him, “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered by telling how evil the world would become and that they would be persecuted.
He told them a parable with a warning, always to make sure they remain true to their faith and fulfil their obligations – no matter what. So, with God’s wrath foremost in their mind and frightful if they really would pass the test, yes, the disciples were afraid of Judgment Day.
Jesus then tells His disciples something as much for their comfort as their instruction. Each morning, may the Holy Spirit also comfort us as we each ask, “On which Side of Jesus’ Throne Will I Stand?”
We read in our text: When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 26:31-33)
No one is going to escape. When Jesus comes, He will gather up the dust and ashes of everyone who has ever lived, as far back as Adam and Eve. Everybody. When all have been raised up and those who were still alive are made immortal, everyone will meet Jesus.
Mark tells us that the holy angels will separate us out and put us on Jesus right or left.
We read on in our text: Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:34-36)
Think about who the people on the right had helped, and why.
The disciples had just heard about the coming persecutions. Innocent Christian families would be arrested and put into prison. Now, the food in Roman prisons was really bad, just stale and mouldy bread and water that I doubt was very pure. Cold, dark, poor sanitation, only the clothes you were wearing – prospects were not good.
So can you imagine yourself….walking up to a roman prison with a basket of food and warm clothes, and asking the Roman guard if you could give this to your Christian friends inside.
Would you be scared? It would take an amazing amount of faith to do such a thing – faith that the Jesus had paid for your sins; faith that He was working in all things for your eternal good; faith that He will protect you until the end of time.
To take food and clothes to Christians in a Roman prison needed a lot of love. There was nothing in this for them. They were only thinking about how much their friends, their neighbours, their fellow Christians were suffering; their only regret was they weren’t able to do more.
But just like you and me the disciples and the early Christians still felt unworthy before God. Despite all their saintly actions they still felt inadequate,
As we grow closer to Jesus, and better know Gods love, we become more aware of our failings, our sins how we fail to measure up to what God expects of us, our thoughts, our words, and our actions.
The disciples had been with Jesus for three years and with every days they were becoming more aware of their failings and their sins – here in our text Jesus’ is describing how true faith shows itself, will the disciples ‘measure up’ on Judgment Day? Will we?
Listen again to how Jesus reassured His disciples: Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)
As we serve God, let’s keep our focus on who we are. God made us His children by sending Jesus and giving us faith. And let us remember;
-Heaven is not our pay for a life of hard work.
-Heaven is our inheritance; it’s a free gift earned for us by Jesus’ sacrifice and his love for you and his love for me.
-The more we focus on who we are, the more we are freed to not worry about ourselves but instead to look to the needs of others.
As we do this, Jesus counts all we do as having been done for Him.
So, on which side of Jesus will we be standing?
Sadly, not everyone God has brought into His church cares. We read on: Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Matthew 26:41-43)
Hell was not intended for people. It was only meant for the devil and his band of rebellious angels. But we know that life for those who reject Jesus’ free salvation, is a hell – and we can see the fruits of what happens when Jesus is rejected. We need only to think of the many places in the world where there is conflict……Instead of there being humility and love, there is pride and selfishness.
We read in our text: They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:41-45)
Those on the left may well have done a lot of good. God may well have used to bring others faith and to do some good works.
But its James, Jesus’ brother, who sheds light on what going on in these peoples’ hearts.
He writes: My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
Those on the left would help others, but only when there was something in it for them. Maybe it was the money the rich might give. Maybe it was having others slap them on the back for what a fine job they were doing. Or, maybe it was giving themselves reassurance that they were good people, in spite of the sins they knew were hiding in their heart. On the other hand, when there was nothing in it for them, such as helping a poor Christian family in a roman prison, forget it! They wouldn’t do it. Why take a chance?
Just as the disciples needed to be aware of why they did what they did, so do we!
So, then, why do we do things we do in God’s Kingdom?
Is our humility mixed with pride?
Is our love mixed with selfishness?
If so, on the Day of Judgment, on which side of Jesus will we be standing – His right or His left? Will you pass the test….
Be comforted and encouraged
Jesus led a pure and holy life for you and for me,
Jesus died on the cross for us and paid the full price for all our sins.
Through faith in Jesus, we have been clothed in our Saviour’s perfect righteousness and holiness.
We need no further assurance that Jesus is ours and we are his?
Jesus not only forgives our sins but sweeps away all our doubts about his love for us,
Through his spirit we have the strength we need to live a God-pleasing life, and in so doing gives us a foretaste of heaven.
So, on which side will you be on?
There are a lot of people who are in a worse prison than a Roman prison. They are in Satan’s prison of sin and deceptions, and they’ll be forever condemned with him, unless someone can get through to them before Jesus comes again.
Jesus wants us to be that someone.
But what if our past hasn’t been that great?
What if we doubt our abilities or our effectiveness?
What if everyday we’re still disappointing ourselves?
Well that’s the kind of servants God wants, humility and love are the proofs of faith.
So, remember who you are.
Remember all God has done for you.
Then be confident in Christ which side you’ll be standing on.