Matthew 25:31-46; Judge Jesus (11-23-14)
By the Rev. Bob Gochenour
We all want justice!
In the early 70’s, my family was returning from vacation.
We had spent an exhilarating week climbing the Montana Mountains in Glacier National park.
Now, we were returning to our home in Iowa.
In those days, Montana did not have a speed limit—it was unlimited. This was because they have a lot of open country and it was 100-200 miles between towns.
We were driving about 100 mph towards the next town.
The terrain was the open prairie—with just a few small rises in the highway.
All of a sudden we rose over a hill to discover a car stopped in the lane before us—the driver side door was open, and the driver was trying to get out of the car.
We slowed to 60 mph and managed to maneuver around this car without hitting anything.
The shock was memorable.
We decided that this man must be drunk to be stopped on the highway like he was—he was putting himself and others in danger.
My dad pulled into the next house—about 5 miles down the road to call the State police.
This part of Montana was not very populated—but we were about 10 miles from the next town, so we found a house to call from.
The homeowner let dad into their house and he made the call.
Meanwhile, we witnessed this drunk driver pass us on the highway—he was weaving and driving erratically.
A few minutes later, we saw a State Patrol car speed by in pursuit of the driver.
We felt really good—we had found justice!
The drunk driver would soon be caught and no one would be hurt or killed that day!
We made it to that small town—it only consisted of about 4 streets running north to south and 3 streets running east to west. It was hard to get lost in this town!
We found our way through town and quickly got back on the highway—driving at 100 mph.
Two miles south of town—we found the drunk driver ahead of us again.
We wondered how he had eluded the police?
We wondered how he had gotten in front of us again?
We stopped again to make another phone call to the State Police.
Just as we were knocking on the door, we saw the State Police car speed pass us with his lights on to arrest the driver.
We passed the drunk driver who had been pulled over and was being arrested by the State Patrol officer.
We felt really good! Justice was done! We were safe!
Fast forward about 25 years, I was riding through the Wisconsin north woods with my hosts for the Chippewa District preaching event.
I was going to preach a revival for the weekend at church in Ashland, a town right on Lake Superior.
It was October, so the north woods was already hinting at winter.
We were riding through a state park so we were watching closely for deer on the sides of the road.
They also have a lot of drunk drivers in northern Wisconsin.
We got stuck behind one!
It was about 7:30 pm and very dark.
We could not miss the car in front of us—weaving back and forth, crossing the middle line at 55 mph, slowing down and then speeding up, drifting off the road, regaining control.
My hosts told me that this was as common as seeing deer in Wisconsin.
Weekend drivers often migrate from tavern to tavern, endangering everyone who drives the streets at night.
This was how they survive the harsh winters.
My hosts were prepared—they had a cell phone—which was new-fangled technology in 1999.
This was before EVERYONE had cell phones!
They called the State police from their car—what a great tool!
They reported the driver’s license number and asked for police intervention.
We were instructed to maintain eye contact and told that the local sheriff’s office was waiting to pick up the driver in the next town.
The next town was 12 miles away.
We were also told that the driver had his license revoked from previous drunk driving convictions.
We followed him cautiously.
The sheriff’s car called us several times to check our progress.
“Yes, he is still in front of us, we are passing the gas station now, he is still driving erratically. Do you want us to flash our lights when we get to town?”
Sure enough, 3 Patrol cars were waiting for us, we flashed our lights, and they moved in and arrested the drunk driver!
Justice: we all love it!
There are few pleasures greater than watching somebody get what’s coming to them.
We have a built-in sense of right and wrong—we feel a thrill when justice is done.
You loved it when your mom stuck it to your brother or sister.
You loved it when the teacher caught the class bully in the act.
You loved it when the camp counsellors punished the troublemakers behind the latrine.
You love it when the cop catches the guy that just cut you off on the road.
In a world where the wrong often goes unpunished, we love to see justice.
I think that’s why Judge Judy is so popular.
Judy Sheindlin is a former Manhatten family court judge, who in her retirement has made justice an entertaining TV event.
She has been a successful TV show for 15 years and in 2013 won a Daytime Emmy after 15 nominations.
She is popular for her no-nonsense style as she settles each case, often giving stern tongue-lashings to the complainants.
Perhaps she is so popular because we get quick justice—she often settles 2-3 cases in a 30 minute show.
It seems far more satisfying than the real court system that often takes months and years to decide a case.
We sometimes wonder if there is true justice once the decisions are made.
Joel Stein of Time Magazine observes:
“When Judge Judy showed the audience that she was decisive, that was the elixir for all the malaise that we’ve suffered.”
Justice—we all love it, especially Judge Judy’s kind of justice.
Judge Judy makes us feel better about our world.
Judge Judy is always judging someone else.
We can sit back and laugh at the stupidity of others.
Judge Judy is safe—she doesn’t come too close to home.
JUDGE JESUS IS NOT LIKE THAT!
He comes to us personally.
He deals with our own stupidity.
He might not make us feel better.
He doesn’t just limit himself to small claims cases but deals with the big cases in our lives.
Judge Jesus decides the real issues of life.
Judge Jesus will establish Divine Justice.
I doubt that Judge Jesus would get very high ratings on TV.
Advertisers just cannot sell their products with Divine Justice themes.
Many people get uncomfortable with DIVINE JUSTICE.
Perhaps it is because we do not understand it.
Or maybe because our world has become so political, so partisan, that even Preachers disagree on what is God’s justice.
We are confused by both liberal and conservative politicians arguing their own specific agendas.
At times, it seems that both liberal and conservative theologians just muddy up the waters while they both claim divine authority.
And it seems that if you disagree with anyone—watch out because the abuse is not far behind.
This text helps to clarify some things about Divine Justice.
1. It is real! It is not based on public opinion polls, the political process, or our limited understanding of God.
It is real because God is real—God defines justice based on God’s being. God is not confused—God knows what true justice is!
2. It is more than we can describe—it is bigger than us.
3. It is defined by Jesus Christ.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…” (Matthew 25:31-32)
The Good Shepherd is the Divine Judge!
What is the measure that Judge Jesus uses to separate the sheep from the goats?
It is not political agendas of liberal politicians or theologians.
It is not spiritual agendas of conservative politicians or theologians.
It is not the popular law that Judge Judy uses in her TV court.
It is not complicated manipulations of our American judicial system.
It is not the wide spread protests found in Ferguson, Missouri where they shout: “no justice no peace!”
It is not the inner satisfaction when we observe vengeance on the wrong doer.
IT IS GOD’S GRACE!
For not only is the Good Shepherd the Judge;
The Judge is the Good Shepherd.
We are judged by our Redeemer:
The One who has the power to cast us into eternal punishment.
The One who died to set us free from sin and death.
The One who has given us Amazing Grace and makes us new creations.
The One who hold us accountable is the same One who forgives.
The Only questions that remains is what do we do with God’s amazing grace?
Do we really experience it or simply ignore it?
The sheep in this scripture welcomed God’s Amazing Grace!
They heard the Good News of Jesus and believed.
They experienced the Grace of God and it transformed them.
They became full of love and compassion for their neighbors.
They did more than just HEAR the Good News—it filled their hearts.
The Grace of God became the center of their lives.
It was only natural to share that grace with others.
They fed the hungry—they provided drink for the thirsty.
They clothed the naked—they cared for the sick.
They visited the ones who were in prison.
They didn’t even know that this is what Judge Jesus required.
They didn’t even know that this is DIVINE JUSTICE.
They did these things because that is who they had become.
They were saved by Grace—they became people of Grace.
JUDGE JESUS judged them based on what they did with grace.
They were rewarded because of their response.
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34,40)
On the other hand, the goats refused the gift of God’s amazing grace.
They also heard the Good News of Jesus—but ignored it.
For various reasons they resisted the Grace of God.
They were concerned with their own interests.
They hardened their hearts against God and their neighbors.
They did not recognize Jesus in the face of the beggar, the poor, the hungry, the outsider, the stranger.
They didn’t help the sick, the lonely, the prisoner, the dying.
They ignored the needy in their midst because the ignored Grace.
Grace did not form them—it wasn’t in their hearts.
Grace did not guide them—it wasn’t their concern.
DON’TMISS THE WARNING: these goats were considered “good people.”
Many of these goats attended church, were leaders in their community, were popular in society, and played the part of good citizens.
But because they did not experience Jesus as the Good Shepherd will only experience Judge Jesus.
The question remains:
Are you a sheep or a goat?
Which one do you want to be?
What will you do with God’s Grace?