Throughout Christianity’s history, there have been two great heresies that have given birth to countless other heresies. These two misrepresentations of Jesus focus on who Jesus is, and they each get it completely wrong. One defines Jesus as totally divine and not human at all.[1] This understanding of Jesus states that all his human attributes are an illusion. The other defines Jesus as totally human, a human who has in some way been specially granted powers and authority by God, but who is in no way God incarnate, God himself.[2] The church has spent two-thousand years trying to keep heresy and misunderstandings of Jesus at bay. To a large extent, the church has been successful. However, one place where we have faltered has been the places where the Gospels speak about judgement. Judgement is often misrepresented or ignored.

Judgement is a big deal in Matthew’s account, and it’s a big deal in the teachings of Jesus. You could even say that Jesus’s whole mission was all about judgement. To my ear and yours, the term judgement has taken on a negative connotation. We do not want to be judged based on our appearance, or where we come from or based solely on first impressions. I would even bet that because I have used the word judgement so often in this sermon, that some of you are squirming and feeling uncomfortable right now.

Could it be that we fear judgement because whenever we hear the word, we never think of who is ultimately judging us? When we hear judgement we never think of Jesus. I am a harsh judge, and I bet many of you here today are also harsh judges. How often do we dismiss people who we deem unworthy of our forgiveness? How many times do we forget that when asked about forgiveness, Jesus told his disciples we are to forgive those who wrong us seventy times seven times? Have you ever found yourself saying something like this? “I have given this person or those people chance after chance, and all they do is keep letting me down, I’m done with them.” We all have such a hard time with judgement because we are all such hard of heart judgers. I bet some of you are even judging this sermon right now!

When we hear the term judgement as it relates to our faith, we must remember that Jesus is king. Jesus is our judge. Jesus is our creator. Jesus is God. Jesus became man became part of his creation, to redeem humanity, not to condemn us. Jesus, fully God, yet also fully human, is our judge. He understands every urge we have, every pain we feel, all the anger we suppress, all the sadness and fear in our world, Jesus has encountered as one of us. There is no more compassionate judge than a judge who has walked in the shoes of the person he is judging. Jesus has walked in all our shoes and is walking with each of us right now.

Compassion is essential in this passage in Matthew’s account. “I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.” Jesus says when you treat one another with compassion, you treat Jesus with compassion. “I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.” Jesus says, when you do not treat another person with compassion, you reject Jesus.

Jesus is not teaching a lesson on works righteousness today. He is showing that to be his disciple, to be one of the sheep in his fold, our lives must be “characterized by the love and mercy made evident in Jesus’s kingdom.”[3] The love and mercy Jesus displays in the Gospels. The foundational idea is that your relationship to God is, by necessity, lived out in your relationship to others.[4] We do not treat each other righteously for a reward, but we do so because we call ourselves Christians. The model is not we do good; therefore, we are Christians; it is we are Christians; therefore, we do our best to be good. We must recognize that all our encounters with others are also encounters with Jesus. Those who understand that are the sheep whom the king welcomes into his kingdom. Those who refuse to do it, whether they call themselves Christians or not, are the stubborn goats who willfully and freely chose eternal damnation over the love of our creator.

Jesus does something very sneaky in this discourse. Immediately after this teaching, Jesus’s path to the cross begins. On the cross, Jesus receives the punishment that every single one of us deserves, that every human besides Jesus, who has ever lived deserves. Jesus receives our punishment. Compare that to how he asks us to treat each other in the Gospel today. Jesus implores us to be his sheep, to be the people who treat others as if they are Jesus himself. To be the people who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, and visit the sick. Jesus bore our punishment so that we would stop judging each other so harshly and start loving each other with unrestrained forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. Jesus went all in to give us the gift of being filled with faith. Jesus Christ, our king, our perfect king, bore the totality of human sin on the cross with the purpose that we would recognize what he did for us. That recognition should cause us to reflect his love to each other, not out of the need for reward but out of a sense of duty. It is time for us to be all in for Jesus. It is time for us to prepare for our king to come; it is time for us to be ready for judgment. Come, Jesus Christ, our King, and bring us into your everlasting kingdom.

[1] Docetism

[2] Arianism

[3] Snodgrass, Stories with Intent p 559.

[4] Ibid. p560.

Sermon preached by the Rev. Christian M. Wood

Church of the Redeemer

Sarasota Florida

Christ the King Sunday

22 November 2020