Jesus’ Justice 3

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46

Title: Jesus’ Justice – 3

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Jesus’ justice is eternal
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Maori Flag

 

This is a picture of the Maori flag – also known as Tino Rangatiratanga

  • Tino Rangatiratanga translates into English something like ‘absolute sovereignty’, although many also refer to it as self-determination, autonomy, or Māori independence [1]
  • Basically this flag is a symbol of freedom (at least to some Maori)

 

Freedom is important to New Zealanders – both Maori & Pakeha

  • Many people come to this country from places where they are not free and they come here because they value freedom
  • Kiwis don’t like being bossed around or told what to do
  • We want to be nuclear free for example
  • We like the idea of TSB, Kiwi Bank and the Cooperative Bank because they are 100% NZ owned and therefore free of foreign interests
  • We love free access to wide open spaces, national parks & beaches – so something like the ‘seabed and foreshore’ issue really gets people’s hackles up (on both sides of the argument)
  • Having to pay to watch Sport on TV is another sore point – particularly for those who grew up being able to watch test matches free to air

 

Freedom matters to New Zealanders

  • It also matters to God
  • God is free in Himself and he gives freedom to human beings
  • God respects the choices we make – our freedom is sacred to Him – he won’t violate human free will (even when it pains Him)

 

However, freedom always comes with responsibility

  • Freedom is not license to do whatever we want and get away with it
  • Freedom is the ability to make our own choices and live (or die) with the consequences of those choices

 

Because freedom comes with responsibility it is a justice issue

 

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

  • Over the past couple of weeks we have been exploring this passage to discover what Jesus’ justice is like
  • So far we have heard how Jesus’ justice is relational & generous
  • Today we consider how Jesus’ justice is eternal
  • In other words, there are eternal consequences to the choices we make in this life
  • One day (at the end of history) we will be held responsible for how we used our God given freedom

 

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 eternal:

There are so many crime dramas on TV at the moment – from CSI to Broadchurch to Elementary

  • I think these ‘who done its’ are so popular because we have something in us which needs to see justice done – without justice we have no peace
  • On TV the bad guys usually get caught and justice is served all within the hour of scheduled programming
  • These kind of stories create the illusion that this life is fair – they make us forget that actually people do sometimes get away with murder

 

Kirsty Bentley, Marie Jamieson, Jennifer Beard and Albert Anderson

  • All names of New Zealanders who were murdered in the last 35 years but whose killers have never been found [2]

 

Kirsty Jensen – went missing in 1983 at the age of 14 (still no explanation over 30 years later)

 

Ray Mills – brutally attacked and left for dead

  • Although Ray survived, his attacker got away with it

 

Unfortunately the world we live in is not fair – justice is not always done in this life

  • Some people suffer without deserving to, while others get away with murder
  • It is precisely because this life is not fair that we need a judgment day – a final reckoning when all people are held to account and made to take responsibility for the way they used their freedom
  • In Matthew 25 Jesus describes his vision of the judgement

 

If we were to translate the Bible’s vision of reality into a diagram it might look something like this…

                                                                             Eternal Life                                                      

      We Live – We Die —————————— Raised – Sorted

                                                                           Eternal Death

 

Firstly, we live – and while we are alive we have freedom to do good or bad

  • One of the big themes in Jesus’ teaching is that this life matters – the choices we make now have a very real effect on us after we die
  • If responsibility for freedom doesn’t find its way home in this life, it will in the next – consequences echo post mortem

 

 

After we die there is some sort of interim period before the general resurrection – that interim period is indicated by the dotted line

  • I have put question marks under the dotted line because the Bible is not all that clear about what happens in the ‘in-between’

 

Some people say we are unconscious during the interim – like being asleep we have no awareness of anything

 

Others say that if you have shown faith in Jesus then you go to a sort of paradise – it’s not heaven exactly but it’s like heaven’s waiting room (a nice place to be)

  • This idea comes from Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’

 

Still others believe the interim (between death and the resurrection) is a time of purgatory for those who don’t deserve to go to hell but aren’t quite fit for heaven either

  • Purgatory doesn’t have much foundation in the Bible – it comes from church tradition which has evolved slowly over the Centuries
  • Consequently, purgatory is often misunderstood by Protestant Christians
  • Purgatory is not so much punishment as it is purification [3]
  • Not so much a place as a process – by which we are made fit for heaven – sort of like a finishing school in which our sanctification is completed
  • I’m not sure I believe in purgatory after we die – but I do believe we need to be fair minded and listen to what other Christians think about it
  • It’s not just a Catholic thing – C.S. Lewis believed in purgatory as a purifying process [4] – We would be arrogant to rule out the possibility

 

Now I’m conscious that for many of you this ambiguous interim period may come as a surprise

  • The common belief is that when we die we go straight to heaven
  • Most Christians (and, incidentally, many non-Christians) think that
  • But it’s not actually what the Bible teaches
  • We tend not to talk about the interim period because we don’t really understand it – we can’t speak with certainty about it
  • And certainty is what we most want to give people when they have lost a loved one

 

The truth is we don’t know how time functions after we die

  • Perhaps there is no time – perhaps there is something else altogether
  • Our ignorance about these matters should draw humble faith – not arrogant assumption

 

The interim period is a mystery and our faith needs to be big enough to cope with that mystery

  • The good news is we can trust God with the ‘in-between’
  • God is eternal – he is not subject to death (death is subject to him)
  • I believe God holds us through death so we do not need to be afraid

 

Coming back to our diagram, after the interim period comes the general resurrection of the dead

  • The resurrection happens when Jesus returns at the end of history
  • Basically everyone is raised (good and bad) so that Jesus can sort people out as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats

 

Being raised and sorted is judgment day – that is what the passage in Matthew 25 is describing

  • Those who Jesus identifies as righteous will be given eternal life and invited to share God’s kingdom
  • While everyone else will be sent off to the eternal fire (what we might call hell, or eternal death)

 

This is scary stuff and not all that popular these days – but in fact it is actually an outworking of God’s goodness and necessary if justice is to be done

  • Those who misuse their freedom can expect to lose their freedom

 

Now as I said last week, God is looking for ways to get people into heaven

  • And so the emphasis of his justice is on restoring right relationship
  • But for restoration to happen we need to cooperate with God
  • Unfortunately some people place themselves beyond restoration by not cooperating – so what does justice look like then?

From verse 41 Jesus’ vision of judgment day becomes very uncomfortable…

 

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.’

 

The first thing we notice here is that the eternal fire, what we might call ‘hell’, was ‘prepared for the Devil and his angels’

  • In other words, God does not intend human beings to go to hell
  • It’s not like the old ‘School C’ system where only 50% were allowed to pass and other the 50% had to fail
  • God wants everyone to pass, so it’s more like NCEA, where potentially all students can pass if they meet the criteria – it’s a fairer system

 

The next thing we notice is that those who are consigned to hell are essentially those who don’t show any inclination for heaven

  • The kingdom of heaven is a place where God’s will is done – it is a place where love is given and received
  • By not helping those in need the people on Jesus’ left have demonstrated they are not interested in doing God’s will – not interested in love
  • As Jesus said, ‘whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me’
  • If someone won’t cooperate with God by helping the poor in this life, they can’t be expected to cooperate with God in the next

 

There have been a minority of Christians throughout history who believed everyone eventually makes it to heaven

  • The technical term for this is universalism – meaning everyone gets saved
  • It is a nice idea but doesn’t find much support in the Bible or in reason
  • God’s salvation is universally offered but it is not universally accepted
  • God is love and in his love he gives us freedom to reject Him
  • God respects human freedom and will not force heaven on anyone
  • Although we might not like the idea of hell, God has to provide some kind of alternative for those who choose not to be with Him
  • And so we could say, hell is where God isn’t

 

The point is, Jesus does not choose for anyone to go to hell – rather some people choose hell for themselves, by their own freewill

 

Verse 46 is quite disturbing – it reads…

  • These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.

 

In verse 41 Jesus uses the phrase ‘eternal fire’ and here in verse 46 he says, ‘eternal punishment’

  • How are we to understand these terms?

 

Is the ‘fire’ a literal fire or is it a metaphor for something else – perhaps burning shame and regret – or maybe even something worse than physical fire?

 

Also, what is meant by ‘eternal punishment’?

  • Does this mean the punishment is never ending?
  • Or does it mean the punishment is final, in the sense it can’t be reversed?

The traditional understanding (accepted blindly by most people) is that hell is a torture chamber where human souls are subjected to never ending conscious pain & torment

  • Personally I think this traditional view is mistaken
  • It is based on faulty assumptions about the human soul and eternity
  • But worse than that it makes God into a cruel monster

 

Firstly the human soul…

  • Many people have this idea that while the body dies the soul is immortal
  • This theory comes from a Greek philosopher by the name of Plato
  • Some of the early Christian thinkers were influenced by Plato and so ‘immortality of the soul’ found its way into Christian thought
  • According to the Bible, the human soul is not immortal – God is the only being who is immortal
  • God can grant immortality (or eternal life) to human beings but that immortality is conditional – it is not automatic [5]
  • Jesus makes it clear it is only the righteous who are granted ‘eternal life’
  • Everyone else gets ‘eternal fire’
  • What happens when you put something in the fire? – It is destroyed

 

So – if fire destroys and those consigned to the eternal fire are not immortal (they are not fire resistant) then ‘eternal punishment’ cannot mean never ending conscious suffering

  • Rather ‘eternal punishment’ means the punishment is final – it cannot ever be reversed
  • Once people die the second death in hell – that’s it – they are no more

 

What I am describing to you is known as the annihilationist perspective of hell

  • Simply put – hell is not a place of never ending conscious suffering
  • It is a place of annihilation or incineration
  • So, if human beings do suffer then it is not for very long

 

Now some people might think – ‘Who cares what hell is like? I’m a Christian and I’m going to heaven’

  • Well, there is something quite unchristian about that thought
  • We need to give some consideration to the afterlife because what we think about heaven & hell says something about what we think of God

If you say that everyone goes to heaven, then (based on what we know) the conclusion you come to is that God is not just and does not respect freewill

  • Not just, because he lets evil people get away with it
  • And not a respecter of freewill, because he forces some to be with Him in heaven against their will

 

On the other hand, if you say that hell is never ending conscious torment, then (based on what we know) the conclusion you come to is that God is not just or merciful

  • The Old Testament talks about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – meaning don’t punish people more than they deserve
  • Where is the justice in never ending conscious torment for someone who may have only lived 70 years?
  • That’s not an eye for an eye – and it’s certainly not mercy

 

But, if you say that hell is annihilation – or eternal death – then (based on what we know) the conclusion you come to is that God is a just & merciful respecter of freewill

  • Just, because he doesn’t let evil people get away with it
  • Merciful, because their punishment is over quickly
  • And a respecter of freewill, because he honours the choices people make – he doesn’t force anyone to be with Him against their will

 

As I keep saying though, this reasoning is ‘based on what we know’ – which may be very little (the Bible is quite skinny on the details)

  • We don’t know what we don’t know and so we should hold these things loosely – we can’t afford to be too dogmatic on the subject

 

By the same token, we need to keep our thinking straight about God – otherwise we put our faith at risk, in this life

 

When I was 24 I worked with a guy who was blind – his blindness was caused by cancer

  • One day I went to pick him up for a job and the police were there
  • They wanted me to identify his body
  • Now the church tradition that I came to faith in said the circumstances of his death would exclude him heaven
  • And because I had inherited the idea that hell was never ending conscious torment – I became very angry with God

 

Here was a man who did not ask to be born

  • Who through no fault of his own had suffered much due to his cancer and his blindness
  • And now I’m supposed to believe God is going to condemn him to an eternity of torment?
  • Where is the justice in that?

 

It didn’t take me long to realise I couldn’t believe in a God who would be that cruel and I certainly couldn’t love him

  • I briefly considered becoming an atheist out of protest but there is no meaning in atheism
  • Eventually I emerged from my disorientation with a new orientation
  • I was less sure about what happens after death but more sure about the character of God
  • This life is not always fair but God is good – he is just & merciful, generous & free, gracious & truthful, loving & faithful, patient & kind
  • I don’t know what will happen to my workmate but I believe God will do what is right by him and by everyone else who dies under a shadow

 

 

Conclusion:

Jesus’ justice is relational – meaning that for Jesus, justice is an inter-personal relationship – not an abstract concept or a set of rules

  • Jesus takes it personally what we do (or don’t do) for others

 

Jesus’ justice is generous – God is looking for ways to get people into heaven – He searches the human heart for faith – looking for what we get right

 

Jesus’ justice is eternal – God ensures justice is done, if not in this life then in the next – he will do what is right by each one of us

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tino_rangatiratanga

[2] http://www.crime.co.nz/c-f-cat.aspx?cat=464

[3] Refer Zachary Hayes in the book, ‘Four Views n Hell’, pages 91-118

[4] Refer Clark Pinnock in the book, ‘Four Views on Hell’, page 130

[5] Refer to Clark Pinnock in the book, ‘Four Views on Hell’, page 147

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