Introduction: On the game show Family Feud, hosted by Steve Harvey, contestants are asked to guess how 100 people responded to various survey questions. On a 2012 episode, a contestant had to provide the top answers to the following survey question: “When someone mentions ‘the King,’ to whom might he or she be referring?” What were the four top answers? Burger King, Martin Luther King Jr, Elvis Presley and Jesus. In case you’re wondering, Jesus came in second with 8 votes. The number one answer by a landslide with 81 votes was … Elvis Presley. Martin Luther King, Jr received 3 votes and the Burger King two. Now I think I know how you would answer if someone were to ask you that question because I would answer the same way.
Today as we wrap up our preaching series Why Jesus? I want to provide still one more reason why Christians for centuries have followed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It’s because we believe that He is the King of Kings and Lord or Lords just as the Bible says (Revelation 19:15-16 — (John describing a vision of Jesus) — Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
The dictionary tells us that a king is a sovereign ruler over an independent state. That description seems to fit Jesus pretty well when we consider passages just like the one from Revelation 19. Still, when He first came into our world, though He was called the King of the Jews by magi from the east (Matthew 2:2 — Where is this one who was born the King of the Jews?), He didn’t get the warm reception one would expect. He was born in a manger, instead of a home or an inn. The only people to visit HIs mother and father as they tended to their newborn were shepherds to whom an angel had appeared outside on the hills overlooking the tiny town of Bethlehem. When Herod learned about Jesus’ birth, he didn’t rejoice, but tried to kill the baby whom he viewed as a threat to his throne. And 33 years later, when the Roman governor Pilate heard Jesus say that He was the king of the Jews, he did not entertain the Lord as a head of state, but turned Him over to be crucified. And what did the sign that was placed above His head on the cross say, “King of the Jews“. This seems to be a pretty weird way for a people to treat their king or for that matter for a king to choose to exercise His rule over his people. Yet that is exactly what took place in the life of Jesus. Some people might wonder why Jesus allowed all this to happen to Him if He was their king. The answer might surprise some. When King Jesus came into our world two thousand years ago, His purpose was to suffer and die as a substitute for us. This is how He made it possible for those who put their trust in Him to be restored to a relationship with our Heavenly Father…by covering our sin with His blood sacrifice. Listen to what He said about Himself in Matthew 20:28 — The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. The title that Jesus used of Himself (the Son of Man) is from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. There we discover a prophesy of a King who would one day rule over all peoples and nations. His would be an everlasting reign. No one will ever be able to destroy His kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus, during His first advent to earth, knew that verse and understood that prophecy. That’s why He used it in reference to Himself. Yet He also knew that His time to rule had not yet come. That would be in the future when He comes again to our world as a conquering king. That’s how our passage for this morning from Matthew 25:31-46 represents Him, as the King returning in all of His glory. When Jesus returns, He will provide a permanent fix to everything that has gone wrong in our world because of the introduction of sin. He will remove any remnant of rebellion by judging the nations (Psalm 110:5-6 — The Lord is at your right hand; He will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations). The text that we’re looking at today gives us a little more insight into the future return of King Jesus. As we review what it says we’ll see that He does not want us to be ignorant about this subject. In His effort to provide greater clarity on His return, Jesus raises and addresses three important questions: What does the King have in store for us? How does the King distinguish us? What motivates us? Let’s spend the next several minutes or so and consider what He has to say about each.
What does King Jesus have in store for us? (Matthew 25:31-33 — When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.) These are the words of Jesus. He says that sometime in the future He will come in His glory with all the angels accompanying Him to sit on His throne. As the King, Jesus will function in two roles: (1) as ruler over all of creation, and (2) as judge of all mankind.
- As King, He will gather the nations. The Great Commission commands that the Gospel be preached to every people group so that the church can make ‘disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19 — Go therefore and make disciples of all nations). When the good news has been preached throughout the world and some from every tribe, language, people and nation have responded in faith, just as the Bible says will happen (Revelation 5:9 — And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation), that’s when Christ will establish His sovereign rule over every man, woman and child so that they will submit to His rule.
- As Judge, He will separate the sheep from the goats. In nature, sheep and goats often mingle together during the day, but at night they are inclined to separate. That’s because sheep can tolerate the cooler air, but goats have to be herded together for warmth. Now the words “sheep” and “goats” represent believers in Jesus and those who refuse to believe.
- The sheep (believers) will inherit the kingdom (Matthew 25:34 — Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world). The sheep/believers have an inheritance from God. That’s what we’re told in Romans 8:16-17 — The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. The reason is because, like Jesus, we also are children of God and have a right to one. This inheritance will be the kingdom that John the Baptist proclaimed in his earliest days (Matthew 3:2 — Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand), a kingdom that was the Father’s plan for His children from the beginning (Ephesians 1:4 — …he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him).
- The goats (unbelievers) will go away to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41 — Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels). These will be banished from the presence of the King and sent to eternal fire. While the kingdom was prepared for the righteous, Hell was prepared for the Devil, his angels (See Revelation 20:10) and also those referred to in this passage as goats. Illustration: The May 1984 National Geographic showed through color photos and drawings the swift and terrible destruction that wiped out the Roman City of Pompeii in A.D. 79. The explosion of Mount Vesuvius was so sudden, the residents were killed while in their routine: men and women were at the market, the rich in their luxurious baths, slaves at toil. They died almost instantly amid volcanic ash and superheated gasses. Even family pets suffered the same quick and final fate. The saddest part is that these people did not have to die. Scientists confirm what ancient Roman writers record — for weeks prior to the eruption, rumblings and shakings preceded the actual explosion. Even an ominous plume of smoke was clearly visible from the mountain days before the eruption. If only they had been able to read and respond to Vesuvius’s warning! Now here’s the thing. The Bible says that God does not want anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). When people face His judgment, it will not be because He pulled a fast one on them, be because they, like those living in Pompeii, did not recognize the ominous signs and warnings of things to come. Here’s one such warning from Jesus about future rumblings in our world (Luke 21:10-11 — Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven). As things fall apart all around us, people would be wise to see it as a sign from God warning them that a coming day of Judgment is near. There is no reason for anyone to be caught unaware. (What does the king have in store for us? Either an inheritance or eternal judgment)
How does King Jesus distinguish us? Jesus tells us that He has a simple way to distinguish between the sheep and the goats. It is their response to the ‘least of these brothers of mine.’ While the Bible elsewhere tells us to do good to all men (See Galatians 6:10), what separates us from everyone else is our desire to minister to Christians who are busy witnessing to the nations of the Gospel of love.
- Sheep are recognized as those who serve God’s people (Matthew 25:34-36 — Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For 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). Sheep receive and bless God’s people as they seek to expand the Christ’s kingdom and even sacrifice on the behalf of those needing food, shelter, clothing and encouragement. By loving those whom Jesus loves, they prove to be His disciples and inherit the kingdom prepared for them before the foundation of the world.
- Goats are recognized as those who snub God’s people (Matthew 25:41-43 — Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For 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). The people Jesus calls goats have neither the time nor the inclination to bless the people of God, so they ignore Christians who suffer imprisonment, starvation and abandonment for simply attempting to share the Good News with people around the world. (What does the king have in store for us? An inheritance or judgment; How does the king distinguish us? By how we treat or ignore Christians doing His work around the world)
How does King Jesus motivate us? (Matthew 25:40 — And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’; Matthew 25:45 — Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’) Jesus is not teaching here that those who care for the poor and down-trodden will inherit the kingdom for their efforts. Note that both parties were surprised by God’s assessment of their treatment of believers as a measuring stick for what it means to be in the kingdom of heaven. His point is that in serving our brothers and sisters we are serving Christ and professing our faith, love and adoration for Him.
- We are not saved because we do good works for our King (See Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is the clearest demonstration of God’s grace and mercy in action. Christ, as a human being, acted as our substitute and took our sin in His body on the cross, reconciling us to God (See Ephesians 2:15b-16). In short, this means that though we earned God’s wrath, we received His mercy; though we did nothing to deserve eternal life, in His grace God offers it to us. Application: It is deep within our nature to want to add to the work of Christ our own human effort to bring about our salvation, but this notion is unbiblical and even sinful. There is nothing we can contribute to what Christ has already accomplished that will make us more deserving of eternal life. Illustration: Some time ago a company marketed an instant cake mix that was a big flop. The instructions said that all you had to do was add water and bake and you had your cake. The company couldn’t understand why it didn’t sell — until their research discovered that the buying public felt uneasy about a mix that required only water. Apparently people thought it was too easy. So the company altered the formula and changed the directions to call for adding an egg to the mix in addition to the water. The idea worked and sales jumped dramatically. That story reminds me of how some people react to the plan of salvation. To them it sounds too easy and simple to be true, even though the Bible says, “By grace you have been saved through faith…” It really is that simple!
- We are saved so that we can do good works for our King (See Ephesians 2:10). Here in Matthew 25:31-46, the Lord points out one of the good works that reveals the believer’s true nature, the willingness to care for other Christians who are serving Jesus and advancing His kingdom on earth. It is remarkable that our Lord (King Jesus) so identifies with believers that to bless us is to bless Him and to reject us is to reject Him. This is, however, precisely what we find in the Scriptures. When we serve the body we demonstrate that we have a new, divine nature that compels us to love one another. A nature that comes from God and brings glory and honor to His Son … King Jesus.
Conclusion: Some might be concerned that Jesus is going to judge the world, but I want you to know that believers have nothing to fear. In fact, we can and should look forward to Christ’s return and entering into the eternal state. I close with these words from N. T Wright in his book Surprised by Hope that comment on Jesus’ second coming. The word judgment carries negative overtones for a good many people in our liberal and postliberal world. We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment. So don’t forget…Jesus is coming back as the sovereign King of the universe to exercise His rule over all creation and to judge the nations. This is a good thing, and we who love and worship Him look forward to the return of King Jesus.
So now as we bring this series to a close, I’ll remind you that we have given ten reasons why we follow Jesus. These include (1) Jesus’ followers believe him to be the Son of God, and as such, worthy of our worship and obedience. (2) He became a fully human being in order to die as our substitute and pay the penalty for our sins. (3) He heals our souls and eventually heals our bodies, if not sooner in some cases. (4) He is our shepherd who leads us to green pastures. (5) He is our deliverer who rescues us from the attacks of Satan and his demons. (6) He is our teacher who brings truth and life to us as we apply His word. (7) He is our friend who laid down His life for us. (8) And He is our defender who redeems us from our guilt and inability to rescue ourselves from slavery to sin. (9) He is our life and hope not just for the time when we enter eternity in the presence of God but for the here and how. And (10) last but certainly not least, He is our King who rules over all creation and judges every man, woman and child in righteousness.