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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Final Separation
Text:Matthew 25:31-46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:End Times
 
Preached:02/23/2014
Added:2014-03-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


02/23/14 – a.m.

Pastor Ted Gray

“The Final Separation”

Matthew 25:31-46

In Matthew chapter 24 Jesus made it clear that He will return again and that there will be a day of reckoning when He does return.  He brings the same truth up in chapter 25.  It contains two well known parables, the parable of ten virgins and the parable of the talents.

Most of you are familiar with the 10 virgins: Five were wise and five were foolish. Five had their lamps filled with oil, the wicks trimmed, they were ready at midnight when the Bridegroom arrived.  But the foolish ones were unprepared.  They were on the outside, unable to attend the great wedding banquet. “Sir! Sir!” they said. “Open the door for us!”

“But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.”

“Therefore keep watch,” (Jesus said) “because you do not know the day or the hour” (11-13).

The parable of the talents also contains a warning of judgment. A man went on a long journey, and before he left he gave a talent, worth about $1000, to three of his servants.  He told them to put the talent to good use, for when he returned he would settle accounts with them.  Two of the men used their talents and were blessed and rewarded.  But the third man buried his talent in the ground. When the Master returned he said, “...Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It is after those two familiar parables on the certainty of judgment that Jesus closes the chapter by describing what will happen when He returns.  He describes a scene of great glory, in verses 31-32, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. 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.”

All People, Including Believers

As Jesus  separates “the sheep from the goats”  all people will be gathered before Him (v. 32) including believers.   

Although it is often taught that Christians will be exempt from the final judgment, Scripture is clear that we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  We see that throughout Scripture.  For instance, Romans 14 is written to Christians, by a Christian - the Apostle Paul - and in  the last part of verse 10, he says: We will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  Verse 12 spells out what we will do before God’s judgment seat: So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Likewise in 2 Corinthians 5:10 we read, For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

And Hebrews 4:13 adds: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Since these verses, and others like them, so clearly speak of a day of judgment for believers, why is it that so many Christians are taught that the elect won’t face the judgment?

The view that Christians will not be judged is advanced especially by those who hold to a dispensational view of the Bible.  Many Christians have followed the teachings of C.I. Scofield and the Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield was a well known lawyer who served as the US attorney for the district of Kansas back in the 1870’s. After his conversion in 1869, he became a minister, but in all due respect he should have stayed an attorney and not gone into theology.

Scofield took the dispensational teachings of a relatively unknown pastor, J.N. Darby, and elaborated on them to form the backbone of what today is Dispensational Theology. He published his still popular Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 and it continues to be very influential in the church today even though by Scofield’s own admission his teaching opposed  historic Christianity.

Dispensational theology breaks down all of history into seven different dispensations, - periods of time - during which God deals with people differently. For instance, there was the dispensation of law but now we are in the dispensation of grace.  Although dispensationalists would deny that their doctrine teaches seven different ways of salvation, it does, in effect, do just that.

Scofield, along with his followers, used a number of Scriptures out of context to build their view.  Depending on which dispensational view you take, you can have between three to seven different  judgment days.  They also teach separate judgments for the Gentile nations and Israel. In fact, the dispensational view of this passage in Matthew 25 is that Jesus is teaching that nations will be judged by how they treated the Jewish people. They believe that when Jesus refers to “the least brothers of Mine”  He is referring to the Jews.  Consequently, they interpret verse 32, where all the nations are gathered before Christ, as a time of judgment on the nations in regard to their treatment of the Jewish people.

Needless to say, that view which is so popular misses the clear teaching of Jesus in this passage:  All people, including Christians, will be gathered before the Lord on the final Day and He will separate them as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.

Saved by Grace; Judged by Works

The judgment – the separation - will be according to works, even though we are saved by grace through faith because Scripture teaches that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). 

That our salvation is by grace is clear from verse 34 which tells how our inheritance has been prepared for us since the creation of the world.  Jesus is saying, in effect, “Before the world was formed, a place for you was being prepared, a place in heaven.”

And yet before the world was formed, before God breathed the breath of life into Adam, He knew that Adam would fall, and all humanity with him.  Nevertheless, God prepared a place in advance, a place which Jesus also ascended to further build, in His words in John 14. That speaks of grace. We are saved by grace through faith.

But whether our faith is genuine or not is demonstrated by what we do. Those on the right, the sheep who are blessed with an inheritance in heaven, demonstrate the genuine character of God’s gift of faith in their lives by their actions, - even their little actions of care, concern and love.  They have what Romans 1:5 describes as the obedience that comes from faith.

By contrast, those on the left, the goats, likewise show evidence that whatever profession of faith may have been on their lips was not genuine, because they never showed it by their actions.

God’s Glory Revealed

A third reason for the Day of Judgment is that it will reveal God’s glory and the eternal destiny of each person, either in heaven or hell, - both of which are eternal, as verse 46 emphasizes.

Some people question why there is a need for the Day of Judgment.  “Since God already knows the outcome and the destiny of each person’s life, why does there need to be a Judgment Day?” they ask.

One reason for the final judgment is that it will glorify God and it will vindicate His people. The Day of Judgment will be the day that even the greatest skeptic, even the most hardened of unbelievers, will acknowledge the power, righteousness and true deity of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps no where is that put more clearly than in Philippians 2:9-11 where we read how every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

God will also be glorified on Judgment Day as His grace will be revealed at the judgment as never before.  People who have rejected and ridiculed the Lord will realize at the Judgment that He truly is the God of immeasurable grace:

When my secret thoughts and motives are revealed, when my careless words are recalled, when my lukewarm works are brought into review, all the world will know that God is truly gracious to save a sinner like me.

If ever the words to Amazing Grace will be appropriate, it will be - not at someone’s funeral - but on the Day of Judgment.

Yet at the same time, I, along with all God’s people, will feel no shame, for all my sins will be seen as forgiven, covered by the blood of Christ, remembered for judgment no more.  All of us who believe will be vindicated and declared righteous.

As Louis Berkhof observes, in his classic work, Systematic Theology: “It is sometimes objected that the sins of believers, which are pardoned, will certainly not be published at that time (Judgment Day);  but Scripture leads us to expect that they will be, though they will, of course, be revealed as pardoned sins.”  (pg. 732).

Our sins will truly be seen as pardoned, separated from us as far as the east is from the west,  no longer remembered for judgment.  But our accountability for our sins will bring God glory on judgment day as His grace far overshadows our sinful failures.

How else do we apply this passage of Scripture?

“The Least Brothers of Mine”

The evidence of our faith is revealed by how we care for other Christians.

Often this passage has been used as a proof text for the social gospel. In fact, one writer takes this passage to mean that “God will judge us in accordance to our reaction to human need.”  And another: “The Son of Man sees in any wretch, His brother.” (Wm. Barclay & David Hill, as quoted by James Montgomery Boice, Matthew, V -2, pg. 540).

The error of the social gospel is just as great, though in a different direction, than the error of the dispensationalist. Jesus does care about the poor and needy. And every person, Jesus taught, is our neighbor so we must also reach out in compassion to them.

However, when Jesus says whatever you did for “the least brothers of Mine” He is talking specifically about other believers.  As one commentary points out:  “In (the gospel of) Matthew “brothers” means “disciples,” -  all who follow Christ...”  (IBID. pg. 541).

Other passages also bring out that the actions are done specifically for other Christians. For instance, in  Mark 9:41 Jesus says:  “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink - because you belong to Christ -  will by no means lose his reward.”

The Apostle Paul also brings out the priority we are to have in benevolence in Galatians 6:10, where he writes, ...As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,-  especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  

As a contemporary example, recently a person called our church asking that we help her pay her mortgage. If we don’t she may lose her house, she says, and be homeless. Those who take Matthew 25 as a social gospel would say, “We need to pay her mortgage. Whatever we do for her we do for Christ. If we don’t pay her mortgage we will be among the goats on the last day.”

But those who see this passage as referring specifically to Christians might ask, “Since this person lives near the church and knows where the church is, and knows when we meet, and is not shy about asking for money, why doesn’t she come and worship with us?  If we give her tithes and offerings that belong to our Lord, are we being good stewards? Or are we being enablers for someone who wants our Lord’s treasures without any commitment to His Lordship?

You see, just as the dispensationalist has an incorrect understanding of this passage, so does the person who sees it as a social gospel.

By contrast, when we do something for “the least brothers of Mine” in Jesus’ words, it means caring for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, unfortunately, isn’t it true that often we are callous to the needs of those who are closest to us?

We can also fall into the scenario James describes in the second chapter of his letter. James describes how two men show up in church as visitors.  One is wearing a gold ring and fine clothes,(the other is) a poor man in shabby clothes.

James writes: 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?  Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love him? (James 2:3-5).

How often, in the church, are the least of these brothers – and sisters – overlooked, while the ones who have status and standing in the world are given a place of honor?

Sins of Omission

A second application is that we often stress sins of commission, but sins of omission are just as serious in God’s sight.

Those on the left of Jesus, those who are consigned to damnation, are not described as  murderers, thieves, or adulterers.  Nor are they described as outspoken atheists. They were people who knew what they should do, but they didn’t do it, even though many of the things mentioned are little, such as giving someone a drink.

James 4:17 is one of those very convicting verses.  It points out: Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.  We all have those sins of omission.  On the last Day may they truly be seen as forgiven sins, covered by the precious blood of Christ.

And until that day may we seek to walk in the good works before ordained for us to do (Eph. 2:10), making every effort  - in the words of 2 Peter 1 - to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness  and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure,(Peter writes), they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (5-8).

An Eternal Association

A third application is that the suffering of hell will be intensified by the association with the devil and his demons.

A few commentators point out that this passage reveals to us the purpose for hell.  Hell is not just for those who do not have saving faith, evidenced by works. Hell is a place for the devil and the demons. As verse 41 notes: “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.’”  One writer notes:

 ...Jesus pictures hell as a place where fallen angels and rebellious human beings are together in their suffering. What a terrible association! What a destiny! To spend eternity shoulder to shoulder with an evil being whose one goal has been to defy God and bring others to share in  suffering forever.  Will the (demons) not gloat that they have succeeded in bringing people to hell?  Will they not gloat over you if you are there? (IBID.  pg. 544).

Comfort

When I began to outline this message I thought I might use it as a catechism sermon. In our evening series we are just a few weeks away from Question 52 which asks, “How does Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead comfort you?”

Comfort, you ask?  Is there comfort?  It is judgment Day. All people who have ever lived are gathered before the Lord.  Even though their destiny has been eternally known, this is the day of  proclamation.  This is the official declaration of where each person will spend all eternity.  Every deed, every thought, every word that was spoken, every motive, every inclination of the heart is known by the Judge.

And the catechism asks, “What comfort do you have?”  This is the most solemn occasion the world will ever know.  But the Heidelberg Catechism, because it is rooted in Scripture, is filled with comfort. And it’s answer to the question is a classic answer:

In all my distress and persecution
I turn my eyes to the heavens
and confidently await as judge the very One
  who has already stood trial in my place before God
  and so has removed the whole curse from me.
All His enemies and mine
  He will condemn to everlasting punishment:
but me and all His chosen ones
  He will take along with Him
  into the joy and the glory of heaven.

On that great and solemn day may you and I know that comfort through saving faith in the Judge, who is also our Savior from sin, the Lord of our life, the One who will say to all who have placed their faith in Him, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world”  (34).  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 02/2, Rev. Ted Gray

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