The Message: Matthew’s Second Set of “Blessed Ares…”

Scripture:     Matthew 25:31-46  

Preacher:      Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Location:      First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale        

Date:             November 22, 2020

Today, we’re reading what has been called the Sermon on the Judgment, or as the preacher that married Kelly and me 37 years ago calls it, “The Sermon on the Last Audit.”[1]   It’s about how all of us will appear before Christ at the end of time and provide an accounting on how we shared our God-given blessings with the everyday people we encounter.  If you will reach back in your mind and remember, you will recall that Matthew’s gospel begins with a list of blessings promised to us by God in the Sermon on the Mount beginning in chapter 5. In the beginning of his Story, Jesus’ first public teaching is when he goes over a list of “blessed ares” like the meek, those who endure suffering, the poor, the peacemakers and the like.  Today’s reading, indeed, Jesus’ final teaching of his ministry, also contain a list of “blessed ares” but they are a bit more subtle to find.  As you hear the text, listen for the “blessed are the” in his final teaching. Hear the Word of the Lord!

Matthew 25:31- 46

31 “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. 32 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, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[2]

            Today is the final Sunday for the Christian liturgical year.  In many ways, it the Church’s New Year’s Eve.  Matthew’s Gospel begins in darkness with a baby born in a manger at night and now it ends with that baby-now-Christ-of-God sitting at the fulfillment of time to usher the faithful home. Interestingly enough, there will be those who are grossly disappointed when they learn they didn’t make the cut to move into the sheep line.  Assuming all their lives that they were sheep people, they quickly realize they were basing their assumptions on old, outdated information.

            Our nation is still going through this period of division today. Americans are living lives as proud sheep and goats. One side knows better than the other side and we will see at the end who is right! Today’s text is a good reminder not to make assumptions, beloved, and look for those threads that unite us together in an undivided demonstration of what it means to be Christ-followers in America today. Today’s startling last lesson from Jesus contains the bookend “blessed ares” for his Matthean ministry. The “blessed ares” revealed today show how we can one pull our nation back together again but they also point us to what determines the eternal consequences for our life after this life. I suppose we need to sit up straight, scoot up in our seats and listen to it, then, eh?

            The first radical thing about this judgement scene is what determines which line we fall into; it is not based on a list of “Thou shalt nots…” This is what Jesus has been trying to get across to people throughout Matthew’s gospel; it’s not about loving God with a well-lived life; on the contrary, what brings God joy is a life well-lived in its expression of love for others. Jesus is telling us that our eternal life is based first and foremost on God’s thoroughly soaking grace lavished on us through Jesus. Consequently, one’s eternal life is calculated on how well we continue the flywheel effect and share those graces with others.

            The second radical observation about our future judgement in Matthew’s text is that is doesn’t say it’s determined by our belief in Jesus. Our eternal life is not based on our mental assent that he is Lord and Savior; frankly, anyone can say that! What’s amazing is that one’s belief is not measured in mental acknowledgement and recognition of who Jesus is; on the contrary, Jesus is saying one’s faith and eternal life is based on whether we believed who he is enough to intentionally live like Jesus lived! As one scholar remarks, “Students of the New Testament know that the only description of the last judgment is in Matthew 25. There is nothing in it about ecclesiastical connections or religious practices. There is not a word in this passage about theology, creeds, orthodoxies. There is only one criterion here, and that it is whether or not you saw Jesus Christ in the face of the needy and whether or not you gave yourself away in love in his name.”[3]

Folks, you need to know that I am not saying believing in Jesus is not important; what I am saying, and what Jesus’ teaching is telling us, is that our salvation is with what we do with our belief in Jesus that matters.  I love what Dr. Lindsay Armstrong says, “Matthew lifts up the importance of what we do with our lives. Why? Because how we spend our time and whom we actively love and do not love provide a diagnostic image of our overall health.”[4] 

So, friends, if Jesus were to slap you and me into a heavenly MRI machine, what would it reveal about our spiritual health? What are the rubrics to measure it? I suggest the measurement of our spiritual health, our church’s spiritual health, is best measured with the last set of “blessed ares” in our Story today. Did you hear them?

Blessed are you when you see a stranger and give them food to eat.

Blessed are you when you see someone thirsty and give them water to drink.

Blessed are you when you look at the face of a broken human being and you welcomed them because you are showing hospitality to me.

Blessed are you when you see someone naked and without basic needs and clothe them and see to their basic needs as a human being.

Blessed are you when you cared for me while I was sick and I could give nothing in return for what you did for me.

Blessed are you when you intentionally sought me out and visited me where I was in the dark, remote places,, like a hospital ICU, a food kitchen, or in prison.

Friends, Jesus is telling us that our faith is not rocket science and is pretty simple to grasp.  When we see Jesus in the life, the face, of the person next to us, we love that person as if it were Jesus himself! Dale Bruner exclaims, “These ministries are within the reach of every single person; everyone has access to Jesus through a needy person.”[5]  Bruner reminds us that big, humongous miracles aren’t happening here; little, seemingly inconsequential ministries are. “It is precisely in these little ministries that the miracle of the Big Mystery – eternal salvation – comes.”[6] 

Church, you and I, this nation, all people everywhere, are united and tied together by the little things that hold the undeterminable weight of the key to our eternal life and salvation. Matthew reminds us that it is not about our correct beliefs or doctrines; he reminds us it is not about obeying rules and regulations; no, Matthew has Jesus reminding you and me that our eternal salvation is based upon how we love those around us in the most simple, basic, ways. He begins his gospel with “blessed ares” and he ends Jesus’ teaching with “blessed ares.”  I do believe he is trying to get us to remember something, don’t you?  The eternal question is, “Do we?”  Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder

First Presbyterian Church

401 SE 15th Avenue

Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

patrickw@firstpres.cc

patrickhwrisley.com

© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.


[1]From a sermon from the Rev. Dr. B. Wiley Stephens, Dunwoody United Methodist Church in Dunwoody, Georgia, Heaven’s Audit of One’s Soul, November 23, 2008. Accessed on 2/17/09 at http://day1.org/1120-heavens_audit_of_ones_soul.

[2] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3] Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Feasting on the Word: Year A volume) by David L. Bartlett,  Barbara Brown Taylor

https://a.co/j1pRcxf.

[4] Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Feasting on the Word: Year A volume) by David L. Bartlett,  Barbara Brown Taylor

https://a.co/6B28YdH.

[5] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 570.

[6] Ibid., 567.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Mystic Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a husband, father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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