The great divide - Matthew 25:31-46
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The Great Divide
If you had asked me this question about 10 years ago, “Do all roads lead to God?” I would have said “Absolutely not. Only faith in Jesus Christ will lead a person to God.”
If you asked me the same question today my answer would be slightly different. Now please don’t panic. I haven't abandoned my previous convictions. But rather than quickly saying, “Absolutely not,” today I would respond, “Well, it all depends. It all depends on what you mean by the question.”
So, for example, if you mean, “Do all religious paths lead you to salvation?” then I would still say, “No. Absolutely not. Only faith in Jesus will save anyone.”
But if you simply mean, “Will everyone who has ever lived have a personal encounter with their Creator and Judge at some point in the future no matter what religious path they have chosen?” then I would respond, “Yes, all roads do lead to God in this sense.”
No matter what we believe about God, the Bible promises that every Christian, every Muslim, every Buddhist, every Hindu, every Sikh, every sit on the fence can’t make their mind up agnostic and every atheist will be gathered at some point in the future for an unavoidable meeting with Jesus Christ.
It is this future gathering that is being described at this point in Matthew chapter 25. And tonight I want to show you three stunning truths about this future event.
•The glorious throne that will be at the centre of the gathering (Vs 31)
•The dramatic separation that will take place (Vs 32-33)
•The surprising reason for the separation (Vs 34-46)
First, the glorious throne (Vs 31)
Look at verse 31. Read verse 31.
The Son of Man was one of Jesus’ favourite titles for himself. It is a title that has it’s origins in the Old Testament book of Daniel. In fact, you can find it in Daniel 7:13.
It is certainly worth reading through that chapter in your own time. I would throughly recommend it. And if you do, what you find is a scene of judgement for the enemies of God and the establishment of God’s kingdom forever for his people. And right at the centre of all the movements and all the description is a divine person who is described like a son of man. That is like a human being. A person who is at the same time both human and divine. A figure who will have a central role in the ultimate removal of God’s enemies and the ultimate establishment of God’s kingdom.
Who is this person? Well, thankfully because of Jesus we are left in no doubt. Jesus said, “I am the Son of Man.”
Now given the job description of the figure we meet in Daniel chapter 7 it is highly significant that we find this title for Jesus in this part of Matthew chapter 25. Because what we have described here is the future judgement of God’s enemies and the full salvation of God’s people. A future day that will be brought about by the personal and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Man.
Do you have a place for judgement in your view of God?
And if you do not then let me tell you that your god is not as loving as the God in the Bible.
Now you may think that is a rather strange thing for me to say because God’s love and God’s judgement are often presented as competing attributes. And it is fairly common for people to say, “I don’t like the idea of a God of wrath. Instead, I want a God of love.”
So what do I mean when I tell you that if your god has not room judgement then he is not loving enough?
Let me quote from Tim Keller’s book on Mark’s Gospel, King’s Cross: “If you want a loving God, you have to have an angry God...Loving people can get angry, not in spite of their love but because of it. In fact, the more closely and deeply you love people in your life, the angrier you can get…When you see people who are harmed or abused, you get mad. If you see people abusing themselves, you get mad at them, out of love. Your senses of love and justice are activated together, not in opposition to each other. If you see people destroying themselves or destroying other people and you don’t get mad, it’s because you don’t care…The more loving you are, the more ferociously angry you will be at whatever harms your beloved. And the greater the harm, the more resolute your opposition will be.”
The Son of God loves the creatures he has made. And because of this he gets angry when we abuse each other. The Son of God also loves his eternal Father and wants him to be honoured by all of us. And because of this, when we dishonour God the Father the Son’s wrath is roused against us.
It is love that will sit Jesus on his judgement throne!
Did you notice exactly how this throne is described? It is a glorious throne.
The word glory refers both to God’s weightiness and his splendour. I think it is significant that the future judgement throne of Jesus is described as glorious.
That is because I think it reassures us that none of us will ever be embarrassed by the judgements that come from this place. We will not keep our heads down because we fear they are over the top. We will not mutter under our breath that they sound harsh. No, they will be exactly right. And they will bring glory to Jesus as they allow him to show his perfect justice.
Second, the dramatic separation (Vs 32-33)
We know that Jesus will return. What will happen next? Look at verse 32. Read verses 32 and 33.
This is telling us that one day all the nations will be gathered around the judgement throne of Jesus. And there will be no one missing. Everyone who has ever lived will be there. You’ll be able to look over the crowd and everyone you have ever known or simply been acquainted with on Facebook will be there. No one will be missing.
And as we stand together Jesus will separate each individual person. We don’t know how he will do it. Will he point his finger? Will he call your name? But regardless of his method the outcome is guaranteed. After the separation there will be two groups of people.
It will be like a 1st century shepherd separating his sheep and goats at the end of a day. He would let them mingle together during the day but at the end the day, the sheep with their warmer coats would be separated from the goats, who needed a difference place to spend the colder night. But after the separation there would only be two groups.
And the same will be true when Jesus gathers the nations before him. The sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
How will you feel as a Christian when you see loved ones on the other side of Jesus? Or if I can put it a different way, how can you be happy on the right when they are on the left?
1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully know.”
One day we will see properly. We will see what we have done to God. We will experience the full joy of being saved by grace. We will love Jesus completely. And we will realise what others have done. We will feel the offence and outrage of how our friends and family insulted and ignored our beloved Saviour and Lord. And we will not be in any doubt that they deserve to be on the left.
Third, the surprising reason (Vs 34-46)
What would your explanation be for why some people are on the left and some are on the right? It wouldn’t be because some had lived a good life and some had lived a bad life. I guess most of us would say something like this, that some had chosen to embrace Jesus as their King and Saviour and the others had not.
But did you notice that isn’t the reason given here? Because according to the verses why are those on the right the ones who experience this wonderful inheritance? Look at verse 35. And notice the linking word. “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 was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
The righteous are confused because most of them had never met Jesus in the flesh because by the time they followed him he had ascended to be with his Father in heaven So they ask, when did we see you hungry? When did we see you thirsty? When did we invite you in? And when did we visit you in prison?
And the answer is electric. Verse 40, “The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.””
I am not exaggerating when I say this is the key verse.
If we get this wrong our application will be dangerously mistaken.
Who are these people? It’s very popular to say that these people are the disadvantaged of the world. On this interpretation, those who experience eternal life are those who treat the poor with mercy and love.
Desmond Tutu, an Anglican bishop in South Africa, is typical of many contemporary interpreters: In this story Jesus declared that it "would be whether we fed or did not feed the hungry, whether we clothed or did not clothe the naked, whether we visited the imprisoned or did not, which would say what our final destination was going to be" ("Christian Witness in South Africa," Reformed Journal, Oct 1985, p. 13).
What does Jesus say about them? In verse 40, he calls them his brothers and sisters.
Who are the brothers and sisters of Jesus? Two references in Matthew.
23:8, “But you are not to be called “Rabbi”, for you have
one Teacher, and you are all brothers."
•Matthew 28:10, “Then Jesus said to them [women at the tomb], "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galiee; there they will see me."
These disadvantage people are followers of Jesus. This makes sense of why Jesus says to those on his right, you helped me when you helped them. Because there is a deep bond of unity between Jesus and his church.
Why are they disadvantaged? Why are the poor? Why are they sick and starving and thirsty and in prison?
Maybe that’s just the lot of some Christians especially when you remember the broad mix of people who follow Jesus.
That doesn’t fit the context of Matthew and the wider New Testament.
•Matthew 5:10-11, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me."
•Matthew 10:18, “On account of me you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say."
•2 Cor 11. Prison, beaten, gone without sleep, known hunger and thirst, cold and naked.
These are Christians who in their normal discipleship are suffering because they have stood up for the gospel.
The original hearers would have understood this. Christians throughout the centuries and in many parts of the world would also recognise this.
We struggle to hear this in the West because the cost of our discipleship is much less. Many things may be more expensive in Britain than in Iran but the cost of being a Christian isn't one of them. We pay a much lower price. But our danger is that misinterpret these words to mean caring for the poor generally or for some disadvantaged Christians simply because our form of persecution is very different from the overwhelming number of Christians who have ever lived.
But we mustn’t do that. We must be clear that these brothers and sisters of Jesus are normal Christians who are suffering because of their stance for the gospel.
In that case, who are those on the right of Jesus? Those who have public aligned themselves with the disciples of Jesus. And so as a result will have suffered as well. Who are those? Christians. They have showed their genuine faith in Jesus and their love of him, by publicly standing with his brothers and sisters.
Or if I can out it like this, Jesus can say to those on his right, "You stand with each other now because you stood with each other then."
What’s the application for us?
It’s not for us to simply help the poor and disadvantaged.
It’s not even a motivation for our community action ministry.
No, it’s first of all, an encouragement for those of us who are standing public with other Christians.
We are saved by faith in Jesus. The Judge has already been judged in our place at the cross.
One of the signs that you have genuine faith is you meet with and stand shoulder to shoulder with other Christians.
If that is you then be encouraged, what a future we have in store! There is nothing to be frightened about. he future will make everything worthwhile. So don’t give up.
What about those who say, “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.”?
Well, quite frankly those are the people on Jesus’ left. Jesus has a similar conversation with them that he has just had with those on his right. You didn’t do this to me. They are confused.
Verse 45. The key verse, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."
There is no such a thing as a private Christian. All private faith is phoney faith.
I’m not talking about those who can’t gather with the people of God but want to. No, I’m talking about those who could do but have absolutely no desire in the world.
Coming to church doesn’t save you. Faith in Jesus saves us. But genuine faith expresses itself in real and evident ways.
The inevitabilty of the Spirit in our lives. He will make us do this.
How do you really know if the gospel dwells in your heart? You will meet with the people of Jesus. And if you have no desire to do this and have no desire to stand public with other Christian it is probably because the Holy Spirit does not dwell in your heart. And if that is you, you will experience eternal punishment for your rejection of Jesus.
Do all roads lead to God? Yes all will meet Jesus. But only hose who have genuinely come to him will experience eternal life.
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