Jesus’ Justice – 2

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46

 

Title: Jesus’ justice – 2

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Jesus’ justice is generous
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

According to the World Giving Index, New Zealand is the 5th most generous nation in the world overall

  • Myanmar/Burma and the USA are the most generous
  • Followed by Canada, Ireland, us (New Zealand) and then Australia

 

The World Giving Index is calculated by surveying a portion of the population – asking three questions…

  • Do you help strangers?
  • Do you donate money to charitable causes?
  • And do you volunteer your time?

 

Based on those three measures each country gets given a score and ranked accordingly

  • When it comes to helping a stranger and volunteering our time, New Zealanders are actually third
  • So we are up there when it comes to generosity toward others

 

This is no surprise really – we Kiwis tend to respond well to those in need, whether in our own country or overseas

  • But for some reason I don’t understand we are not consistently generous
  • Yes, we will help those who we know to be going through hard times but we can be quite ungenerous in our attitude toward those in high places
  • Tall poppy syndrome (cutting down those who rise above) is, paradoxically, part of the NZ psyche
  • We don’t have a lot of grace for our leaders and when our top sports people fail we can become very critical
  • So our generosity is selective – it doesn’t extend to everyone

 

Please turn with me to Matthew chapter 25, verse 31 – page 38 toward the back of your pew Bibles

  • This reading shows us what Jesus’ justice is like
  • Last week we used this same passage (from Matthew) to look at how Jesus’ justice is relational

 

  • Meaning that for Jesus, justice is an inter-personal relationship – not an abstract concept or a set of rules
  • Next week we will consider how Jesus’ justice is eternal
  • Today though we focus on how Jesus’ justice is generous

 

 

When we say that Jesus’ justice is generous we don’t mean Jesus dishes out lots of punishment

  • Rather we mean, Jesus has a generous (or gracious) attitude with people
  • Christ is looking for ways to restore people and consequently he is more interested in what we get right than what we get wrong

 

From Matthew 25, verse 31 we read…

 

31 “When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, 32 and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left. 34 Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. 35 I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, 36 naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’

 

37 The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’

 

40 The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me!’

 

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Away from me, you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels! 42 I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; 43 I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me.’

 

44 Then they will answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we would not help you?’ 45 The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.’ 46 These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.”

 

May God’s Spirit remove the blinkers of tradition so we may see Jesus more clearly

 

Jesus’ justice is generous:

Being generous isn’t just about giving away lots of money

  • A truly generous person is someone who is free from pettiness in character or mind [1] (they don’t sweat the small stuff, in other words)

 

When I was about 7 or 8 years old I had a best friend called Peter

  • Peter lived in the same street as me and we would spend every waking moment of the weekend together

 

Peter’s dad had a nice house with twin concrete pot plant holders at the entry to his driveway – very symmetrical

  • One day I was showing off my strength and accidentally knocked one of the concrete pots off its pedestal so it smashed on the ground
  • It wasn’t my intention to destroy anything – it’s just that when you are 8 you tend not to think things through

 

Anyway, after seeing what I had done I got really scared

  • I thought I was in big trouble – thought I was going to get a hiding
  • My pocket money was 20 cents back then so I could never pay him back
  • Nevertheless I knew I had to face Pete’s dad – it was the right thing to do

 

Peter tried to reassure me that it would be okay – that his dad wouldn’t get angry with me – but I still took quite a bit of convincing

  • In the end (with lots of coaxing from Pete) I decided to bite the bullet, fess up and take my medicine
  • And when I did, I was pleasantly surprised
  • There was no reprisal – no punishment, no harsh words
  • Just warmth and understanding
  • Peter’s dad showed a generous attitude toward me – he knew it was an accident and he wasn’t so petty as to get upset over some broken concrete
  • (Although he did replace the concrete pots with plastic ones after that)

 

We weren’t Christians at that stage in my life and neither was Peter’s family

  • But by his generous response Peter’s dad taught me about grace & forgiveness
  • In particular he taught me that if I make a mistake it does not necessarily mean the end of the relationship

 

Now I’m not saying children should get off scot free when they do something wrong – children do need consequences

  • But for me, in that situation, facing Peter’s dad was the consequence
  • It was sort of a mini judgement day
  • But it was a judgement day in which I met generous understanding

 

In our reading from Matthew 25 Jesus describes his vision of judgment day

  • However, in doing this, Jesus does not refer to himself as our judge
  • That’s not the kind of relationship he wants to have with us
  • He doesn’t want us to think of him as someone who is standing over us waiting for us to make a mistake so he can punish us
  • Jesus is not judgmental – he is generous

 

In verse 31 Jesus says…

  • “When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne
  • In saying this Jesus makes it clear he is the King of heaven & earth
  • As King of everything he is not petty minded
  • What’s more, as King of everything, he has unlimited resources at his disposal, so he can well afford to be generous

 

We see how Jesus’ generosity finds expression in verse 34 where he says…

 

Then the King will say to the people on his right… ‘Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’

 

There are three things I want to point out here…

 

Firstly, Jesus’ reward for taking care of those in need is incredibly generous

  • The gift of God’s kingdom (the kingdom of heaven) far outweighs the cost of sharing a meal with the hungry or giving a drink to the thirsty

 

Secondly, the six things Jesus lists in verses 35-36 are all acts of mercy – in the sense of helping someone who can’t help themselves

  • In the Bible justice and mercy go together – they are integrated
  • As Jesus said, Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy
  • There is a certain justice in that

 

And thirdly, Jesus’ justice has a positive side – it’s not all negative

  • It includes reward as well as punishment
  • Which is quite different to the way we often think of justice

In a court of law there are usually only two verdicts that can be reached – guilty or not guilty

  • Neither of these are positive affirmations
  • Being declared ‘guilty’ is a negative outcome
  • And being declared ‘not guilty’ is sort of ambiguous
  • ‘Not guilty’ doesn’t mean ‘innocent’ – it just means there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove the accused had committed a crime

 

A court of law has to work this way because it is not determining whether people have done something good – it is only determining whether people have broken the law

  • By contrast Jesus’ justice is more positive (more generous)
  • Jesus is primarily concerned with declaring people righteous
  • He is more interested in what we get right than what we get wrong

 

The ones who receive the kingdom are not the ones who never did anything bad – they are the ones who did something right

  • But the ones who miss out on the kingdom don’t miss out because they did something bad – they miss out because they didn’t do anything
  • In verses 42-43 Jesus says to them, You didn’t feed me, you didn’t give me a drink, you didn’t clothe me or take care of me or visit me

 

Just prior to this vision of judgment day Jesus tells the parable of the 3 servants

  • The first two servants were commended because they did something with what they had been given
  • But the third servant was excluded because he didn’t do anything with the talent his master had given him
  • Sometimes we Christians can be so focused on trying to avoid doing the wrong things that we fail to do the right things
  • And this is because we don’t realise how generous God is

 

Jesus is not mean – he won’t exclude us from heaven on some technicality

 

Dallas Willard, the great writer on Christian spirituality says…

We should be very sure that the lost person is not one who has missed a few more or less important theological points and will fail theological examination at the end of life. Hell is not a slip in the wrong direction. One does not miss heaven by a hair, but by constant effort to avoid and escape God.

 

It is a travesty really that while Jesus is incredibly generous some of his people are not

  • Jesus is the doorway into heaven but the church has sometimes made the doorway smaller by inventing rules about who gets in and who doesn’t

 

For example, I remember as a teenager when I was new to church culture someone saying ‘You’re not saved unless you speak in tongues’ – as if the Holy Spirit is a one trick pony

  • This is not true of course – the sign of God’s Spirit is love & truth – which can find expression in a whole variety of ways

 

It is not our place to do make rules about who is saved and who is not

  • We’re not the King, Jesus is the King – and he is generous

 

In verse 32 we read how Jesus will separate the people of the world into two groups – like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats

  • In NZ sheep and goats look quite different – they are easy to distinguish
  • But in the Middle East sheep and goats look pretty similar
  • It takes a trained eye to tell the difference
  • By describing himself as a Shepherd King Jesus is saying…
  • ‘It’s my job to decide who is in and who is out – not your job. I know my flock and I know what I’m doing – I have a trained eye for this – so you can trust me to get it right’

 

Gus Row, who was my mentor when I worked with Youth for Christ, said, “God is looking for ways to get people into heaven”

  • I think there is a lot of wisdom in that
  • He didn’t mean that everyone automatically gets into heaven
  • (God is not going to force anyone to be with Him against their will)
  • He meant that God is both generous and free
  • God is generous in that he wants to share his kingdom with as many people as possible
  • And God is free in that he is allowed to get people into heaven by whatever means he deems appropriate – we call this grace

 

The words of Jesus (in Matthew 25) are problematic for many protestant Christians

  • We come from a tradition which says ‘salvation is by faith alone, not by works’
  • In other words, you can’t earn your way into heaven by doing good deeds
  • You can only inherit eternal life by trusting in Jesus
  • But here we have Jesus himself suggesting that salvation is by works
  • Because the people who inherit the kingdom are those who perform good deeds (like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and so on)

 

To make things even more interesting these righteous ones were not even conscious they were doing it for Jesus

  • They say, ‘When Lord did we see you hungry and thirsty…?’ etc.
  • Now on the one hand their lack of awareness suggests they weren’t trying to earn their way into heaven
  • They were simply helping a fellow human being in need without any thought to how it might benefit them
  • But on the other hand their ignorance of Jesus suggests they didn’t have a conscious faith in him

 

A couple of years ago a movie came out called Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

  • The film is about a British fisheries expert who is recruited by a consultant to help realize a sheikh’s vision of bringing the sport of fly fishing to the Yemen desert. Fly fishing in a desert – that takes faith
  • We would like to play you a clip from the film now…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQvVOT_gSfE

 

In this scene the Sheikh from Yemen says to the fisheries expert…

  • ‘You’re not a religious man Dr Jones?’
  • ‘No – I’m a facts and figures man’
  • ‘But you are a fisherman Dr Jones – how many hours do you fish?’
  • ‘Hundreds sometimes’
  •  ‘…and yet you persist with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you are a man of faith and in the end you are rewarded for your faith and constancy’

 

Dr Jones does not consider himself a religious man – he considers himself a man of science and yet he still has faith without realising it

 

You see, faith is not limited to what we think – faith includes what we do

  • Or as James puts it, ‘faith without works is dead’

 

So what am I saying here?

  • Am I saying that if you go fishing then you’ll get into heaven?
  • No – I’m not saying that (although at least 4 of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen)
  • I’m saying it is possible to have saving faith in Christ without knowing it

 

We need to avoid that petty mindedness which reduces faith to a set of propositions – a list of statements to be understood and accepted in the mind

  • The attitude can be, if you don’t agree with us then you can go to hell

 

God is not petty minded – he is generous – he is not bound to exclude someone on the technicalities we might raise

  • It’s okay to have statements of faith but we need to remember God is not restricted by these
  • It is not for us to limit what faith in Jesus looks like

 

In the gospels faith in Jesus comes in many different shapes and sizes…

  • For Zacchaeus, faith began with climbing down from a tree and welcoming Jesus into his home
  • For the men with the paralysed friend, faith was digging a hole in the roof of someone’s house
  • For Mary of Bethany, faith was sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening
  • For the thief on the cross it was saying, ‘Remember me Jesus when you come into your kingdom’
  • For Peter, faith meant leaving his fishing business to go on a journey – a journey in which he eventually died on a cross like Jesus

 

Faith can be …confessing with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead, [2]

  • But it can also be …what you did for the least of these you did for me
  • Because if you think about it, helping those in need is an act of faith
  • When we help our fellow man (or woman) we reveal a deeper, unconscious belief in the justice & mercy of God

 

Jesus is generous – he is searching our hearts for faith in him

 

Having made the point that the church has sometimes lacked generosity and excluded people because they didn’t fit a particular mould of faith, I need to be fair and acknowledge that not all Christians are like that

 

There are many Christians doing remarkable things within their sphere of influence in the world

  • I’m conscious of Tawa College’s example with restorative practice
  • You may have heard Murray Lucas speak about this
  • Restorative practice (as opposed to punitive practice) is both relational and generous in its response to young people who mess up
  • Restorative practice doesn’t ask, ‘how have you broken the rules?’
  • It asks, ‘how have your actions affected others?’
  • It doesn’t ask, ‘what can we do to punish you?’
  • It asks, ‘what can we do (with you) to put things right?’
  • Those who implement restorative practice are actually following Jesus, even if they aren’t aware of it

 

Returning to Matthew 25 – there is some debate as to who Jesus means when he says the least important of these brothers of mine

  • (This passage interprets us)
  • Some say the term Jesus’ brothers refers only to the Jews (because Jesus was Jewish) – and therefore we need to help Israel
  • Others say Jesus’ brothers refers to Christians generally (whatever their ethnicity) – so when people provide care for Christian missionaries, for example, they are (by implication) caring for Christ

 

I think both these interpretations are too small really

  • While Jesus’ brothers certainly includes Jews and Christians, these interpretations don’t do justice to the bigness or generosity of God
  • Jesus is the Son of Man – meaning he considers himself a brother (in a sense) to all humanity, not just those who pray to him
  • In which case the least of these brothers of mine could be anyone in need

 

In thinking of those who show kindness to the least of Jesus’ brothers I am reminded of my grandfather

  • To many people he was a hard man
  • He drank and smoked and swore and had a short temper
  • He was tough in business and he didn’t go to church – but he loved me
  • In fact he did more to teach me the love of God than almost anyone else
  • He loved me generously, gently and unconditionally
  • His love never wavered, even when I disappointed him or hurt him
  • Without the experience of his love I’m not sure I could imagine God’s love, let alone trust God
  • He was a missionary to me without realising it – just as Pete’s dad was a missionary to me without knowing

 

God is big – he is not limited to using church people to communicate his gospel

 

Could it be that my grandfather and Pete’s dad inherit the kingdom even though they don’t tick all the evangelical boxes?

  • I don’t know, it’s not my call
  • What I do believe is that Jesus’ justice is generous (not judgmental)
  • Jesus is looking for ways to get people into heaven (to restore humanity)
  • He is more interested in what we get right than what we get wrong

 

Conclusion:

Sometimes we might start our Christian journey with a relatively small or tight point of view

  • Then, through the gift of suffering & loss, our point view is enlarged and we become more generous in our attitude to others

 

Jesus’ justice is relational and Jesus’ justice is generous

  • Next week we will consider how Jesus’ justice is eternal
  • Now though let us stand and sing…

 

♫       There’s a wideness to God’s mercy…

 

[1] Collins Concise English Dictionary

[2] Romans 10:9

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