Who Gets To Sit With Jesus?
Iwanna sit at the big table. When I grew up, at big holidays like Thanksgiving, there were two tables. There was the big people table and there was the kiddy-table. And it was the goal of little child at the kiddy-table to get to the big, grown-up table. But there was always a test involved. First, there had to be space. And second, you had to act like a grown up. This morning we do not have an invitation to move up to the big table for Thanksgiving. Instead, we have the invitation to sit with Jesus in heaven. But that makes us ask a very important question: Who gets to sit with Jesus? In Matthew 25 we find the answer to that question: “31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” (Matthew 25:31–36 NIV11-GKE)
It’s the end of the world. It’s Judgment Day. And Jesus takes his seat on his throne. And where we would expect a long, drawn-out trial, instead, there’s a separation. And he says to the people on his right, “come!” And again, we hear this and we ask, who—what kind of people get to sit with Jesus? And Jesus heavily hints at an answer in the words that follow. First, he speaks of an inheritance. An inheritance is not a gift you grasp for an earn. It is undeserved. Second, he says that this inheritance was prepared before God built the world.1 Before they had done anything—whether good or bad, God chose them. All of this heavily hints that this inheritance is not a gift they deserved.
But the story continues. Jesus gives a reason why they go automatically into his kingdom. He was in some bad situations here on this earth: stranger, naked, hungry, thirsty, in prison. And they were there. The sheep then react to this statement by asking Jesus a question: “37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’” (Matthew 25:37–39 NIV11-GKE)
The ones who are welcomed into heaven wonder when they ever helped Jesus out in his time of need. Jesus then tells them: ““The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV11-GKE)
In his own way, Jesus has already answered our question. Who are the ones who get to sit with Jesus? The Righteous. And notice from these words both what righteousness is and who fit that description. Righteous means to be holy and perfect. These sheep are righteous—they are holy, perfect, and blameless. But it’s not a righteousness that they earned or deserved. It was a righteousness that was prepared for them from eternity, bought for them by Jesus, and given to them by his holy word. From the beginning to the end, they had no part in this righteousness. They simply had the joy of receiving this righteousness. And the righteousness that they wear in these words is the same righteousness that you wear. It’s the righteousness that Jesus won for you on the cross and gave to you in your baptisms. And so, because of this, heaven is a place to look forward to, not a place to live in fear of. But these words continue: “41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:41–45 NIV11-GKE)
The righteous sheep enter straight into heaven. But there’s another group: the goats. Jesus sends away the goats. He sends them away because they did not help him in his time of need. And here is where we need to read these words closely and listen closely. For the goats ask the question, “when?” And that, right there, tells us pretty much everything we need to know about them. One of my professors used to say that All false teaching is a confusion of cause and effect. And here we see what that looks like. The righteous are perfect, blameless, and holy as an undeserved gift. And, since they appreciate this undeserved gift, they spontaneously and naturally show their thanks for helping those around them.
Not so with the goats. The goats ask the question, “when” because heaven was a task to earn, not a gift to receive. And here, in them we see what happens when we confuse where righteousness comes from. When we conclude that we will pass the trial of getting into heaven with our own righteousness what happens? There are two tragic consequences when we go down this road: First, our neighbor becomes a tool instead of a person. Your friend, your co-worker, your family member—you look at that person not as a real human who needs your care and love. Instead you look at them as a tool, that if you are good to them, you can build up a list of good works and climb your way into heaven. And people aren’t stupid. When they see you treating them like they are a tool instead of person, your relationship with them will be short-lived. But the second consequence is even worse: If your neighbor becomes a tool, then Jesus himself becomes a fool. Jesus says, “Here, take my righteousness. I won it for you on the cross. I gave it to you in your baptism. Wear it.” And in response, we say, “I’d like to wear my own righteousness instead.’” We’re like the two year old who stubbornly refuses to let anyone help tie his shoes. And then when he realizes that he can’t tie his own shoes, he gets angry at everyone else. All throughout our lives we will continually find this tragic attitude in our hearts. And all throughout our lives we will need to recognize it and repent of it. For the warnings that Jesus speaks here are real. But notice where these words end: ““Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”” (Matthew 25:46 NIV11-GKE)
We repent of our sins. And in joy then we receive the promise of eternal life that Jesus speaks to us here. Let us then rejoice that, when it comes to this trial that we will face when we die or when Judgment Day comes, in a very real way, it’s over before it really begins. And that’s true because there is only one group of people who will sit with Jesus. The righteous will sit with Jesus. And we are clothed with Jesus’ righteousness. Let us then thank him. This morning we have songs from our handbell and voice choirs that urge us to thank our Lord. In these words we hear why. Who gets to sit with Jesus? Only the righteous do. And purely by God’s grace, we are in that group. Amen.
1 “ⲁⲡⲟⲕⲁⲧⲁⲃⲟⲗⲏⲥⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲩ” (Matthew 25:34 GNT-ALEX)