Christ Incognito

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20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. (Ephesians 1:20-21)

Today in the Christian Calendar we are observing “the reign of Christ” or “Christ the King”.

            It is for us Christians New Year’s Eve, as next Sunday will be the beginning of the New Year,     the first Sunday in Advent.

                        We have as Christians two book-ends to the year.

                                    We start with the build up to the incarnation, the birth of Jesus as God coming                               in human form,

                                                And we finish in majesty, with a celebration of the risen Christ seated on                                       his throne in his glory.

This is certainly where the Gospel reading starts 

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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-32)

                        Wait what was that last line, “something about separating people one from another                    like a separating sheep from goats.

                                    It starts out well, “Son of Man comes in his glory” sitting on the throne of his                             glory. All the nations will be gathered before him.

                                                But then jumps right in to a statement of Christ dividing up the people.                                                      What is Jesus telling us?

Well to start you might be interested in why Sheep and Goats?

            In my study this week I found out that: sheep and goats were among the first domesticated          animals and the most common livestock of the area.

                        They lived together in the same fields. But goats are reportedly smarter and more likely                 to wander off and get into trouble

                                    Also at night sheep can remain out in the field where Goats without the wool                                 coat need to gathered together for containment and warmth.

So, daily, a shepherd, common occupation in a land that is 90% rural, will need to separate the sheep and the goats.

            I don’t think that there is anything unduly evil about goats or especially good about sheep            (though likely less hassle),

                        it is just a common illustration of separating or judgment applicable at the time

Next, it is helpful in understanding the passage, for us to start where this section of Matthew starts, this grouping of scripture.

            Matthew 24 and 25 start with the disciples asking in “Tell us, when will this be and what will        the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”(Matthew 24:3)

                        So the passage today is the concluding thoughts of a section where Christ is responding                to the disciples question about the coming of end of time.

                                    The gospel reading today, marking the Christian calendar on “reign of Christ”,                               is the final teaching of Jesus prior to the passion narrative,

                                                Or the final days of Christ prior to his death and resurrection

Christ tells three parables just before this reading - all building up to this final statement - his reign and judgment.

            There is a story about faithful and unfaithful servants, those that aren’t watchful are cast   Outside when the master returns unexpectantly, and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

                        Secondly the story of the ten bridesmaid, waiting for the bridesgroom

                                    Five with enough oil to last the late ‘night’s wait’ and five without, the five                                   without go to buy more oil and miss the party, and are locked Outside.

                                                Then the parable of the talents, where the one of the three entrusted with                                       responsibility fails and is cast Outside and there is weeping and                                                      gnashing of teeth.

Make no mistake today’s Gospel along with the passages that build up to it, they are about Judgment.

            In all four cases, there are some that are “in” and some that are “out”.

Judgment – how do you feel about God’s judgment?

            As some of you may know judgment is a favorite topic for some types of preachers several           years ago.

                        But sermons on hellfire and damnation now-a-days appeal to very few

                                    Who among us wants to be told that God is here to judge us and damn us to                                  eternal life of fire, with weeping and gnashing of teeth?

                                                But God’s judgment is not something that we can sidestep,

                                                            It is present through-out scriptures,

                                                                        in fact today all four of the readings make some reference                                                                to it, for example in the Ezekiel passage, there is a                                                                            statement that “I shall judge between sheep and sheep”.

We Christians are known to believe in the God of love and there is a tendency to focus on the positive.

            And it is important and true that with judgment, God is showing that He is involved with us,

                        It is important what we do and God responds accordingly, sometimes the grace does not             appear as obvious as other times.

It is clear that there are whose times that God chooses to bless.

            Scripture that speaks of judgment also speaks of blessing.   

                        I mean if we are to look at the parables and the odds:           True there are five                               bridesmaids that are left outside, but there are five that ‘in’,

                                    There is one servant that does nothing good with responsibility of talent, yet two                           that do. 

                                                There is both unfaithful servants AND faithful servants.

So when considering God’s judgment some might choose to focus on the negative – the hellfire and damnation people – and some might like to consider the only the positive – let’s call them the rose-colored glasses people

            To understand the fullness of God’s Love which includes God’s judgment, our role as realistic     interpreters, is appreciate the warning and strive for faithful union with God – in righteousness

Well, moving beyond the contextual aspects, let’s return our focus to today’s reading

            First - Jesus tells the parable speaking to both the righteous and unrighteous,

                        Those that will be on the right side and those on the left.

                                    Notice for a minute a very important detail, the words are quite specific, the                                   righteous “ask when was it…”  

                                                And it is Christ that addresses them as righteous, they don’t know they                                          are the righteous and they don’t remember when they have been                                                    righteous.

                                                            And there is an echo back a few sections of Matthew where we                                                                  are told to “keep awake …, for you neither the day nor the hour”.

It is important to understand in this lesson in judgment that there is no remembrance of their deeds, there was no calculation of their generosity.

            They were righteous because of their deeds yet didn’t act for the purpose of being righteous.

            Oh, and by the way they will receive an inheritance – a gift from a giver – not a                           reward from an employer.

Second - Let us also consider the deeds that made the righteous – righteous.

            Jesus speaks of six conditions: hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned.

                        All of these conditions are basic conditions; common concerns and needs.

                                    These conditions were so common and familiar that to minister to them was                                   know by Jews at the time with a title -  ‘deeds of loving kindness’

                                                And these types of conditions you can see for yourself are reoccurring                                            through-out the Old Testament.

                                                            In fact I think it is clear that Christ selected them because they                                                        translate across time - before His coming and after, including to                                                      us today - as standard concerns for the human situation.

                                                                        In fact, consider that Jesus, at one point or other,                                                                              experienced each one of these conditions himself.

Thirdly, let’s consider who our deeds are directed towards and what that means to us?

            Jesus says  “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you          did it to me. (Matthew 25:40)           OR      “just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you        did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45)

                        To both the righteous and the unrighteous, Jesus says nearly the same thing.

                                    There is the question of who might be “members of my family” but I think that                              common sense would tell you that we don’t know who is “in” and who is “out”

                                                That is for God to judge - and our role is that we must consider that                                                Christ came as salvation for all.

The Actress Helen Hayes lost a daughter to polio some years ago and in her grief cut herself off from friends and from God

            She wrote about it in her book – This I believe – and told the story of her alienation and    lostness – she wrote

                        “I cut God out of my life and didn’t have the nerve to ask Him to come into my life again.

                                    Nevertheless, I went to my church in New York City and prayed there every                                 morning and kept looking for a restoration of faith and a reunion with God.

And then much later, I discovered that  it had happened, right there in the church.

            I could recall, vividly, one by one, the people I had seen there – the solemn labourers with tired    looks, the old women with gnarled hands.

                        Life had knocked them around, but for a brief moment they were refreshed by an                          ennobling experience

                                    It seemed as they prayed their worn faces lighted up and they became the very                              vessels of God.

                                                Suddenly I realized I was one of them. I, in my need, saw they too had                                          needs, and felt an interdependence with them.

                                                            I experienced a flood of compassion for people, and have never                                                      since felt separated from the love of God.”[1]


It is for this reason, that for me, this is one of the most influential passages in the entire bible.

            I am reminded of these words of Jesus, whenever I engage with others when I am asked to help.

                        When I am walking by a beggar on the street, I wonder “is this the least of these”.

                                    When I see an ad on TV for a campaign for World Vision or feed the children or                           sponsor a child, or AIDs in Africa, “are these the least of these”.

                                                Even simple things like holding a door open to a stranger in a                                                          welcoming fashion, “is this the least of these”?

                                                            How does this question affect you? ….

So Christ tells us without any uncertainty that He comes veiled in the least of society.

            Hidden, yet in our midst… incognito!  

                        Notice how all the deeds reflect an attitude towards others, towards community.

                                    Our actions to others in our community are actions to Christ incognito.

This concept is challenging - We Christians are known to express our faith by the correct beliefs “orthodoxy”, Believing the right things - verses “orthopraxy” doing the right actions

            We believe that a correct understanding or knowledge of the gospel is vital to our salvation

                        Christ lived as one of us, Christ died on the cross taking on all of our sins as a human                    sacrifice making us into a right relationship with God, and Christ rose from the dead to                 his rightful place as our Savior and Lord.

                                    We make a statement of our core beliefs each corporate communion service                                   with the Apostle Creed.

Yet, we are to be challenged by the Gospel today – Jesus - ‘the Christ’ - ‘the Messiah’ leaves no room for a ‘faith only’ relationship with God.

            It is not creed OVER deeds… but Creed AND deeds.

So as Christians – your deeds matter – not just your beliefs – Live a life in line with Jesus example

            Answering the question “What Would Jesus Do?”

                        Not counting your actions but in knowledge that when Christ returns in All His glory –

                                    As we celebrate today “The Reign of Christ” - the climax of the Church's year,                                          And the climax of Jesus' teaching ministry in Matthew,

                                                            Know that you will be judged

                                                                        And you will be judged by your deeds to the least of these                                                                                       your sisters or brothers - in whom Christ lives…                                                                                                        Incognito

Heavenly Father raise us up to see your face in the face of others, give us eyes to see and hearts to respond with your Love - Amen


[1] Illustration Sourcebank - # 1035

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