Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
Epistle: 1 Cor 15:20-28
Lesson: Ezek 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm: Psalm 95:1-7a
CLB Commentary – Prof. Brad Pribbenow
In college I came into possession of an old cassette tape (!) of Keith Green’s music. Keith Green is perhaps best known as the co-writer of the well-known song, “There Is A Redeemer.” He was a unique blend of Billy Joel and John the Baptist—very much a prophetic and evangelistic voice in his time. The one song from that cassette tape which gripped me the most was a song that depicted the scene found in Matt 25:31-46.
This “parable” (as it is sometimes referred to, although it lacks some of what we have come to expect with the genre of parable) is a part of Jesus’ fifth and final discourse in the Gospel of Matthew, the five discourses being Matt 5–7; 10; 13; 18; 24–25. It closes off the last discourse. It is therefore, in many ways, the climax of Jesus’ teaching not just in chapters 24–25 but in all of Matthew’s Gospel. It describes a scene taking place at the culmination of history, a time “when the Son of Man [has come] in His glory” and has taken his rightful place “on His glorious throne” (Matt 25:31). These events sound notably similar to what is described in OT texts such as Daniel 7 and Joel 3 where God is described as coming to judge the earth; only in Matthew 25 the Son of Man is the One given the responsibility to carry out the action. Interestingly, the “action” which is being carried out in Matt 25 is not necessarily judging but separation. For all intents and purposes, the judging has already taken place. All that is left to do is to separate.
The reality of the heretofore co-mingling of the sheep and the goats reminds us of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43 commonly known as the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. Here he describes the coexisting of “the sons of the kingdom” among the “sons of the evil one” (Matt 13:38). This coexisting is to continue, Jesus says, “until the harvest” (Matt 13:30) when the tares (described as “stumbling blocks” and “those who commit lawlessness” in 13:41) are separated from the wheat and are burned in unquenchable fire. Thus what the parable in Matt 13 and the scene/parable in Matt 25 show is that in these days, the unrighteous and those who have been made righteous dwell together, live together, work together, etc. This is the condition we live in right now. And, it can be difficult to tell presently who are the true “sons of the kingdom” and “sons of the evil one.” Yet a day is coming…
According to the Gospel text for this Sunday, there will be a day when Jesus the crucified, resurrected and ascended King will come and take his rightful place on his ruling throne and he
will, at that time, gather all the nations before him. This is the point of no return. Here the reality of one’s status before Jesus the righteous King and Judge is revealed. But how is this reality, this status, determined?
What needs to be affirmed is that one’s status, in the words of this text, as a “sheep” or a “goat”, is not determined by one’s works. To hold this view would be to stand at odds with such clear Biblical texts as Eph 2:8-9 and Rom 3:28 (just to list a couple). Lenski (998) puts it succinctly: “In the final analysis it is unbelief that damns, the unbelief that ever says ‘no’ to grace, continues to say this ‘no’ even in hell (Luke 16:30), and thus retains also the guilt and the damnation of all its other sins.” Neither the “righteous” nor the “accursed” ones received their judgment based solely on their works.
There’s much more that could be said about the details of this text. But let me pose this question as you consider preaching it. After you’ve done your textual study and considered the exegetical and homiletical ideas of the text, ask yourself, “How do I hear this text? How does the Holy Spirit work on me as I hear it?” The answer to this question will differ by individual. This is as it should be. As I heard this text decades ago as presented in song by Keith Green I was led to ask myself, “Am I among those on Jesus’ right, the sheep, whom he will welcome into his eternal presence? Or am I among the goats, those who are escorted into eternal damnation? How can I know?”
This is most certainly a probing text to preach. Yet what we long to do through it is to point people not to the “shifting sand” of self-evaluation. By this point of view one looks to prove one’s status before God by asking questions such as “have I fed the poor, given a cup of cold water to the thirsty, housed a stranger, clothed the naked, and/or visited the sick and imprisoned”—all with an eye toward justifying oneself before God. Rather, we want to lead our hearers to the “solid rock” of the Gospel. For in the Gospel Jesus says, “though you are unrighteous and, in fact, poor, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned yourself, I have come to you and rescued you. I have made you righteous. Because of this, you are now freed and empowered to serve the least of your brothers as I have served you. And, at the end of time, I will joyfully welcome you, righteous one, into the eternal kingdom that has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34).
May you and your congregation be blessed as you study and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ through this text!