02.19.17 Avoiding God’s Judgment Matthew 25:31-46 Sermon Summary
Most people think God judges to punish sinners and vindicate the faithful. But the Bible says there’s a lot more to it than that.
- How Passover differentiates God’s people from those of other gods
- Some characteristics of God’s people
- How God’s sheep are differentiated from the goats
- The importance of right practice, not just right belief
From the beginning, God has wanted a people. God created Adam and Eve, called Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, and rescued the family through Joseph in Egypt. In Exodus, God just wants his people to worship him. God says, “I will execute judgment on the god’s of Egypt,” but really, he’s just differentiating his people.
God’s people are different than the people of Egypt’s gods, or any other nation’s gods. God’s people are characterized by sharing with others, not hoarding for themselves, and actually following where God leads. This is why Passover instructions tell small families to host one another, and to burn any leftovers, and to be dressed and ready to go.
The ultimate sign of God’s people is that they trust him for deliverance. This is what the blood of the lamb proves, that God’s people don’t look to the gods of Egypt, or of any other nation, to deliver them. They look to God.
So when God says mark yourself with the blood of the lamb, God’s people do it. Then God sees it and recognizes his people. And then God delivers them. God didn’t judge Egypt to punish them, but to call his people to identify themselves. One way we can avoid God’s judgment is to trust God for deliverance, not the god of the nation in which we live.
Jesus gives us more direct counsel. After excoriating the religious leaders, giving visions of end times and parables of final judgment, he concludes this long discourse with the parable of the sheep and goats. It is among the most disturbing passages of the Newer Testament for Christians, especially professional Christians like me.
We try so hard to get others to believe right things. Right belief is called “orthodoxy.” Traditionally this has included the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Creed. Sometimes it has included the Sermon on the Mount. Normally we encourage others to have “quiet times” and to observe the sacraments. Perhaps you have even memorized the “Romans Road” and led others in the “Sinner’s prayer.”
The challenge of this passage is that sheep are sheep, not because they know Jesus as “Lord”—for the goats also address him as “Lord”—but because they did right things. And they did right things not because of the Lord, but because they were the right things to do.
Doing right things is called “orthopraxy,” and it includes feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty a drink, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoner.
I have to wonder how many times was this passage preached in the segregated south. Or how was it interpreted? They refused to feed blacks. They refused to share water fountains. They refused strangers who were black. Preachers like me—and Christians like you—ought to ask ourselves, “These people that Jesus talks about, who are they today? To whom is he referring, not just literally, but figuratively also?”
In my hometown of Colorado Springs, we don’t see many naked people. But we see underclothed folk. How well are we caring for them today? Today we know sickness includes not just the physically ill like Simon the Leper or the Woman with the Hemorrhage, but the mentally ill also. How well are we caring for them today?
Prisoners in Jesus’ day—and especially in Matthew’s audience—were political outsiders, those who were socially vulnerable. Today we know that some people are imprisoned to addiction. How well are we visiting such people today? Likewise, who are the hungry and thirsty today? Who are the strangers?
Jesus wants us to be sheep to avoid God’s judgment—or better, to survive God’s judgment. He wants us to be God’s people, to bear the marks of God’s people, just like in Exodus. We are God’s people not when we recite the Lord’s Prayer, or celebrate the sacraments, or attend worship—not when we have orthodoxy alone, but when we have orthopraxy also.
We are God’s people when we share, not hoard; when we welcome, not suspect; when we care for, not ignore; when we are ready to follow God wherever God leads. For God leads his people not to judgment but to blessing; not to a kingdom of this world but to one prepared for them from the foundation of the world. God leads his people to salvation as we care for the least of those who are members of his family.