CSI to the Rescue
This text is no more about getting you to do good works for the poor, needy, naked, or imprisoned than Jesus' words about cutting off your right hand is about taking a knife to your hand. You think it is because the things in our text are doable. But there is nothing distinctively Christian about caring for the less fortunate. Everyone from Muslims to Unitarians to Jews to Mormons think this is what religion is about. But if this text isn't about seeing Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, imprisoned, then what is it about? CSI to the rescue.
CSI stands for Crime Scene Investigation. For the last 14 years these shows have led TV ratings. They pick apart a crime scene meticulously finding microscopic clues eliminating some suspects and exposing the guilty. Meticulous Bible study can rescue you from the not only erroneous but damning conclusion that going to heaven is a matter of what you do or don't do.
So let's dig into this courtroom scene. Examine carefully how people are labeled. Those on the right are referred to as "sheep," "blessed of My Father", and "the righteous." Those on the left are refereed to as "goats," "you who are cursed," and simply "they." This last is significant. When those on the right answer the Lord it says, "The righteous" answer Him. When those on the left do it's simply, "They" answer. In the end it is "the righteous" that go to eternal life. The ones who go away to eternal punishment are no more than "they." Lots of name calling going on, but never once does it refer to doers of good works or not doers of good works going anywhere.
Hmm. This is like when CSI finds clues pointing a different direction than they first thought. But a good crime scene investigator doesn't jump to conclusions. He scours the scene for every scrap of evidence there is, and we're not done with the nomenclature used. We saw how those on the right and those on the left are referred to, but we didn't look at how the Judge is. He's never called "judge" though many Bibles label this section "The Judgment of the Nations" or "The Last Judgment." No, the Judge is referred to as "the Son of Man," "the Shepherd," "the King" and "Lord." Hmm. That's one more clue I'm not sure I'm going to follow. Both those on the right and left both call the Judge "Lord."
In a crime scene, they map out who was where doing what. Did you know real modern CSI hardly ever use chalk outlines? In the gangster years that was done some times not for the investigators but for the press to take a picture of the scene without the gruesome body. But modern CSI does use every clue available to determine who stood where, did what, and left how.
Notice that the Son of Man, the Shepherd, the King, and Lord comes in rest and in heavenly glory. He is seated. His work is finished. His work of redeeming every lost and condemned person, of purchasing and winning every single soul from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil is over. He did this not by ransoming them with gold or sliver. No, the price to redeem sinners from the death sentence they deserved and the devil who was only too happy to administer it was His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
What I'm saying is that our "crime" scene points to something that happened before. Real crime scenes do that too. Events happen outside the scene of the crime that profoundly influence what happened at the crime scene, and so our text. Jesus returns after having kept every last Law that ever accused anyone of anything. Jesus returns after suffering every last judgment, punishment, pain in place of anyone you ever knew and everyone you don't know. Jesus returns after having sent out into the world the saving message that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, that there is no sin too ugly to be forgiven, that there is no sinner that He doesn't want to save.
Jesus comes at rest, but Jesus is the actor throughout our scene. The insert says, "He will put the sheep on the right and the goats on the left," but the Greek word is "stand." Malachi 3:2 asks, "But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears?" No one except those the Lord Himself causes to stand. See the scene clearly because one day every single one of you is going to be there. This isn't a parable. Jesus doesn't say the Last Judgment is "like" or "as". He says, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory.He will sit on His throneand He will separate the people... and He will stand the sheep and the goats."
Our sermon hymn catches the tone of the scene. "And will the Judge descend,/ And must the dead arise/ And not a single soul escape His all-discerning eyes?/ And thro' the num'rous guilty throng/ Spread black despair around:/ How will my heart endure/ The terrors of that Day/ When earth and heav'n before His face/ Astonished shrink away?" Do you think the contemporary, emerging, relevant churches ever sing that hymn? Nope, they're too busy feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, clothing the naked, and gathering the strangers and thinking, "They're doing just fine."
But the scene on judgment day is quite different. No one can stand except the Judge makes them. You've seen a movie where the convict collapses on the way to execution; you've seen him stand before the hangman's nose with knees knocking together, but have you ever been so scared it happened to you? I have, and I expect that will be the case when Jesus comes in glory and I'm reminded of every sad, shameful, wicked, rotten thing I ever did. But then my King starts talking.
The King tells both those on the right and those on the left what they did. They don't tell Him what they did. The King, the Son of Man, the Shepherd, the Lord says the sheep, the blessed, the righteous fed the hungry, watered the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned. The King, Son of Man, Shepherd, and Lord says the goats, the cursed did not one of these things.
So far neither those on their right or left have said a thing. The Son of Man descended in glory with all His angels with Him, did the separating, and sheep and goat stand there on trembling knees. But then He calls those on the right blessed by My Father and rattles off a whole list of good works. And the only thing those blessed by the Father can say is "When did we ever do any of those things?"
At last, the evidence points to me. I can't tell you one time that I ever did anything like Jesus says without tainting it with me, myself, and I. I can't tell you one time where I saw in the downtrodden the face of Jesus Christ. I may outwardly have done some of these things but never completely willingly, never so that I could claim it before God's judgment throne.
Those on the left speak too. They say, "When did we not help You?" Actually, it's more sophisticated then that. Whereas those on the right paid close attention to what Jesus says and repeat back to Him what He has first said to them about His being hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned, and how they never met those needs, those on the left abbreviate. "When did we see You in need and not minister to You?" They had a ministry to the homeless, a ministry to the imprisoned, a ministry to clothe, to feed, to visit, but they weren't ministering to Jesus.
How can I say that? Because Jesus Himself says it, and the evidence at the scene proves it. There's subtle point here that only a thorough CSI investigation is going to find. To the sheep, Jesus says, "What you did to one of the least brothers of Mine, you did to me." To the goats, Jesus says, "What you didn't do for one of the least of these, you didn't do for me." The sheep, the righteous, the blessed see the whole world in Christ; the goats, the cursed, don't see anyone in Christ because they themselves aren't there.
In most CSI shows someone finds the overlooked fiber, blood spot, clod of dirt, or strand of hair that proves crucial. In our scene 3 things are often overlooked. First, the separating of the sheep from the goats happens before good or bad works are even mentioned. It's happening right now, right here Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice;" goats don't. Jesus says He leads sheep by still waters; goats think Baptism isn't worth returning to. Jesus says He feeds His sheep in the presence of their enemies; goats think the Body of Jesus is nothing but Bread and the Blood of Jesus nothing but wine.
Second, the sheep and goats go where Jesus tells them. The sheep don't think they belong where they do and neither do the goats, but both stay where Jesus has stood them. And when He says to the sheep, "Come" the sheep do, and when He says to the goats, "Go from Me" they do. It matters not how either feels about it. It only matters what Jesus says.
Third, look carefully at the evidence. The eternal punishment into which the goats are sent was prepared not for men at all! It was prepared for the Devil and his angels. It is shame, a crying shame for any man to ever go there. The Son of Man, the Shepherd, the King, the Lord never wanted any human being to go there. That's not what He created hell for. No one has to go there. No matter their sins, no matter how many their evil deeds, no matter their lack of good ones. No man alive today need go to the place prepared by God for demons because the scene were investigating hasn't happened yet. Goats can still become sheep. How?
Look at the evidence. The sheep go into a kingdom that is an inheritance and prepared not after the Fall but before the world was even created. You know what that proves? God's eternal will is that all men be saved and He wills they get salvation by inheriting it. Jesus has left it to you, to all of you. Not one of you is go from here believing you're NOT an heir of the eternal life that Jesus purchased and won for all sinners. Not one of you it to believe you're a goat and not a sheep. Following the Good Shepherd, bleating after His gifts, and being in His fold convict you of being a sheep. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20141116); Matthew 25: 31-46