The Return of the King

Sermon from Matthew 25:31-46

This Gospel passage at the end of Matthew 25 is the conclusion to a very dramatic sermon of Jesus that is commonly known as the Olivet Discourse, because he spoke it on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. In this sermon, Jesus foretells the end times and describes how the end will come. He also explains that no one will know when the end will come, and so everyone must be ready for that day, and he uses the Parables of the Ten Virgins and the Talents to illustrate that fact.

Then, Jesus closes his discourse with an illustration of the final judgment. He outlines the criteria that will determine whether a person will go to judgment or to eternal life on that day. The bottom line that will decide this is how you related to Jesus, what you have thought about the King.

The Olivet Discourse ties in neatly with this Sunday’s Old Testament reading from Ezekiel 34. Ezekiel was living in one of the darkest times of Israel’s history, when the leaders – who were intended to lead God’s people to love and honor God – were instead captivated with idols and money and their own selves. They were corrupt political leaders.

God said to Ezekiel that the leaders of Israel were worthless shepherds, and so he would come lead his people himself. And ultimately, Jesus was the fulfillment of that prophesy. God sent his own Son to lead and care for his people. He showed us God’s love and tender care. He poured out God’s blessing upon his people. Jesus was the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.

So bringing it back to the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said that the sheep, who loved and followed the Shepherd, are the ones who will find eternal blessing with him.

But then he brings in another element that might surprise us. He said we need to not only love the Shepherd, but to love that which the Shepherd loves. Since Jesus loves his people, those who love Jesus must also love his people. You can’t love Jesus but despise his people. So at that final judgment, those who loved Jesus will be those who displayed that by loving his people.

Charles Spurgeon spoke eloquently about the purpose of God’s people, the church:

These places of worship are not built that you may sit comfortably and hear something that shall make you pass away your Sundays with pleasure. A church which does not exist to do good in the slums, and dens, and kennels of the city, is a church that has no reason to justify its longer existing. A church that does not exist to reclaim heathenism, to fight with evil, to destroy error, to put down falsehood, a church that does not exist to take the side of the poor, to denounce injustice and to hold up righteousness, is a church that has no right to be. Not for yourself, O church, do you exist, any more than Christ existed for Himself. His glory was that He laid aside His glory, and the glory of the church is when she lays aside he respectability and her dignity, and counts it to be her glory to gather together the outcasts, and her highest honor to seek amid the foulest mire the priceless jewels for which Jesus shed His blood. To rescue souls from hell and lead to God, to hope, to heaven, this is her heavenly occupation. 

Spurgeon, Christ’s Words from the Cross, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1986, p. 24-25

One way to stay fixed on this purpose is to step back and remember that Christ the King is on his throne. We can get mired down by the hardships, corrupt politics, sin, and fallenness we see around us. Rather than looking around, though, look up. Christ remains on his throne, nothing that happens in this world takes him by surprise, and he will keep his promise to return.

We are at this moment between the first and second advents of Christ, and what matters for the Christian is how we live during this time of waiting. Jesus is the one we will have to give an account to, and the criteria upon which we will be judged is how we related to Christ and how we related to his people. If we love him and care about what he cared about, then our reward awaits.

Christmastime every year provides ample opportunity for us to be faithful to the call of the Lord in living out the Gospel. Allow Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse to create a sense of urgency in your soul to look around and see how you can love what he loves. The Day of the Lord is coming, and we should live our lives in preparation for that awesome day.