You’ve read Matthew 25, right? It’s the separation of the sheep and goats, the familiar vision Jesus gives all of us of that last day of judgment and glory. We wonder about that last day, don’t we? I was certain that last Friday, December 21, was not going to be the last day. (Of course, when I got my copy of Aerosmith’s new album last week and discovered that Steven Tyler had done a duet with Carrie Underwood — on an Aerosmith album!! — I began to worry. I can’t think of a more disturbing sign of the end times tribulation than that.) But we do know that last day is coming. And we do know Christ Jesus, our King, is going to judge us. He’s going to separate those who denied him as Lord from those who faithfully submitted to his Lordship. That’s what he says in Matthew 25:
“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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I needed songs, and you sang them to me acappella; I needed a communion meal, and you ate it every Sunday; I needed a church, and you built a huge building with the right name on the sign; I needed correct doctrine, and you preached harshly worded sermons and wrote scathing articles; I needed distinctions, and you drew rigid lines of fellowship; I needed strict obedience to laws which never came out of my mouth, and you vigorously kept them and enforced them on others.'”
No! God forbid!
As Joe Malone used to exclaim, “Shades of reason, neighbor!” That’s not what it says. Praise God, that’s not what it says!
“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 needed clothes, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you looked after me; I was in prison, and you came to visit me.”
The ones who are blessed by the Father, the ones who will receive the inheritance, the ones for whom the Kingdom is prepared are those of us who reflect the glory of God. Those of us who show grace and compassion, love and faithfulness, patience and mercy and forgiveness.
Our Lord pulls no punches when he declares with divine authority that justice and mercy and faithfulness are more at the heart of what it means to belong to God than tithing. He does not apologize one bit when he condemns the religious elite for saying all their prayers correctly, but then foreclosing on the widow’s house. Our King desires mercy, not sacrifice. It’s always been that way.
Your practices don’t matter if you don’t show grace and compassion. It doesn’t matter how often or how seldom you take communion if you’re not demonstrating love and faithfulness and forgiveness in your dealings with people. You can sing the songs and say the prayers perfectly right, but if your attitude is not Christ-like, if you’re heart is not being transformed more into the shape of Jesus’ heart, if you’re not reflecting God’s eternal qualities in the ways you interact with people, it’s meaningless.
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”
Our God has revealed himself to us. He’s told us who he is in beautiful words and in mighty deeds. Our God is compassionate beyond measure. His grace is given freely and abundantly. His patience means he will never give up. His love is limitless, no boundaries; his faithfulness is uncompromising, it’s forever. His forgiveness is complete. Total. It’s done.
We are blessed. So very blessed. Praise him. And may our lives increasingly reflect his glory.