The judgment of Jesus

What kind of judge is Jesus?  What can we expect from his reign?  You'll find out - today!

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The judgment of Jesus


November 20, 2016 – Luke 23:33-43




            Today is Christ the King Sunday.  It is the last Sunday of the church year.  You could say it is the culmination of the story of Jesus as the one who came to earth, who suffered and died and rose again, and now is enthroned to rule over creation.


            It has not always been so.  The Red Hymnal – the hymnal I grew up on – does not have a “Christ the King” Sunday.  It simply lists, “The Last Sunday after Pentecost.”  But before that, I am told, this Sunday was called, “Judgment Sunday.”  This is not with the intent to scare people, but rather to reflect the full story of Jesus, which we celebrate through the church year.  For it is an expression of the last line of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed – He will come again to judge the living and the dead.


            But there is really not much difference between a true king and judge.  In monarchies, kings are given the role of judge as well as king, you could say that the role of Jesus as judge is a natural extension of his kingly authority.  We might prefer to think of Jesus as a king rather than a judge. We can more easily conjure up a picture of a generous and benevolent king that of a merciful judge.  And the power of a king extends far beyond the courtroom.


            So, by and large, we are not only more comfortable with “Christ the King” than we are with “Christ the Judge.”  It is also easier for us to see how the power of Christ the King might touch more of our lives.




            Nevertheless, if Christ is the judge – the one who will judge the living and the dead – what kind of judge is he?


            The most common picture of judgment includes a heavy dose of hell-fire and brimstone.  It’s based on a few images from the book of Revelation and is used by certain preachers to scare people into coming to Jesus.  But I think it’s a misinterpretation of Revelation.


            The gospel of Matthew gives us a model is that based on the biblical understanding of what it means to be a shepherd.  The job of the shepherd is to keep the flock together so that sheep don’t wander off and get lost or get attacked by predators.  It is also to keep the stronger members of the flock from taking advantage of the weaker members of the flock.  This, too, by the way, is also the job of the king, the shepherd king as embodied by King David.


            Matthew adapts this understanding in his parable of the last judgement, where people are divided between the sheep and the goats.  The difference between the two is not biological but spiritual – how did they treat the weaker members of society?  “When I was hungry you gave me something to eat; when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink; when I was naked you clothed me; when I was sick or in prison you visited me.”


            There is no question of creed or belief.  The standard by which people are judged are how did you treat those who were most vulnerable – “the least of these.”


            The gospel of Luke gives us a different, but no less powerful understanding of divine judgment.


            Jesus is taken out to be crucified.  He is placed on a cross between two others, also convicted of crimes.  Here Jesus his place on the throne and offers his judgment – “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”


            This is not merely Jesus forgiving those who are putting him to death; it is his judgment upon all of us.  Forgiveness is at the heart of this scene.  It is the theme of much of his preaching. And it is the guiding principle of the new order of things.


For the enthronement of Christ as king is not a regime change.  It is not simply substituting world leader for another, a peaceful transition of power in which the system stays the same.  No, it is a change in the system.  It is a change in the order of the world.  It is change in the way we do business. Or, rather, it is a change in the way we relate to each other and to God.


We hear this in the parables that Jesus tells.  There is the story of those who are consider the most successful religious people, those most faithful to God, ignoring a man who is suffering and doing nothing help him or alleviate his pain, while someone who is considered at apostate, an enemy of the true faith, someone who is as far as possible from God – he is the one who acts faithfully.


There is the story of the employer who hires workers at every hour of the day.  When quitting time comes, he pays everyone the same daily wage, whether they worked all day - through its scorching heat – or whether they only signed on at the end and worked just the last hour of the day.  Those who worked all day protest that this is not fair.  But the owner says, “Are you jealous because I am generous?”  It is not a matter of justice; it is a matter of generosity.


Then there is the story of the father who joyfully welcomes a wayward son, who has wasted everything his father has given him, while the son who has obeyed receives no more for his faithfulness. 


Forgiveness will be the theme of the judgment Jesus renders when all things reach their consummation.  But it is already the order of the day.  It is a present reality.  It is not merely somewhere out there; it is among us now.




            So, where do you need forgiveness?  Where do you need forgiveness today?  Where are you longing for a second chance?  Where might someone else be longing for a second chance with you?


            For the kingdom of this Jesus is the kingdom of second chances:


            There is Peter.  Jesus knew that Peter would turn away, and told him so.  Then he said, “But when you turn back, strengthen your brothers.”


            There is Barabbas, who is released from prison and pardoned from execution, rather than Jesus.


            There is the centurion, who after carrying out Jesus’ crucifixion, said, “Truly this man was innocent.”


            And even the crowds – they taunted Jesus for not being able to save himself, but who left the scene of his death and returned home, they were beating their breasts.


            This is the kingdom of Jesus.  It is the kingdom of second chances.  It a kingdom in which Jesus pronounces judgment – “Father, forgive them.”  And we respond – “Jesus, remember me.”


            This is the kind of judge that Jesus is.  This is the kind of king that Jesus is.  And this happens not just in the future; it happens today!