March 9, 2016 Length: 19:20
Before we enter into Great Lent, the Church presents us with a depiction of the awesome and fearful Final Judgment of the world by Christ to motivate us to love God and man. In teaching this, Fr Thomas offers an answer to the age-old question, "Why do we have to be judged?"
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! [Glory forever!]
If you’re on Facebook, you know it can be a pretty interesting place, and by “interesting” I mean that sometimes you see a lot of odd things, and sometimes there can also be surprises. I have this acquaintance—I have a lot of Facebook friends that hear our sermons and The Path, so people that I’ve never really met, but people that listen—this one young man, who has said that he was in a very rough neighborhood, and he’s often asked by beggars to give [them] money, and he said that he knows that the reality is that sometimes it’s for drugs. [The beggar] said, “Please, I need money, right now!” And he said, “Oh, I can’t. I can’t do that. I don’t have anything on me.” And he said he even lied a little bit; he had some money on him. He said the man walked away, and as he walked away, he looked at the back of his shirt, and there was a big icon of Christ crucified as he was walking away, and he said that image struck him, and immediately he thought of today’s gospel reading about clothing the naked and helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and all of this is done in the guise of Christ, that the poor can be Christ coming to us and asking us to help.
We want to talk today in the context of this gospel reading to answer some very basic questions. What is the Judgment? Why does it happen? Why do we have to be judged? And what kind of God would do this to us? Why would he make us be judged?
The first: Why is there a judgment? If you remember that at the beginning of this gospel reading, it says, “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” Why is there a judgment? To reveal Christ for who he really is, and that is God. The judgment is the natural result of Christ revealing himself. Do you remember the story of the Transfiguration? where Jesus took his three most important disciples—Peter, James, and John—and he took them, it says, off to a high place, and there he revealed his glory to them, only what they could actually bear, only what they could actually tolerate as human beings. And if you know the icon of the Transfiguration, it’s very dramatic because Christ is revealing himself in all of his glory, and there’s that mandorla drawn around him, and the disciples are falling back, falling over. They can’t tolerate it.
The judgment happens because, in the first coming, Christ withholds his glory. In other words, he comes to us, making us decide, putting the onus on us, that we love God, in the Old Testament through the Law, obedience to the Law, but in the New Testament, when Christ comes, we follow God through faith; we follow him through love. We decide that Christ is who he says he is without all of the proofs other than he heals people, he teaches the truth, and he raises himself from the dead. But when you look at him, you have to discern; you have to look at him and discern from what you hear and what you witness, not so much by what you see who he is.
But at his second coming, he doesn’t come like in his first coming. He doesn’t come simply appearing as a man, but it says he comes “in his glory, and all the angels with him.” So why is there a judgment? There’s a judgment simply because eventually Christ has to reveal himself to the whole world, and that judgment in a way is what we call the consummation of all things. Christ not only reveals himself visibly but experientially. He unleashes his glory to be prevalent in all of creation, through everything and everyone. And it is this mere presence of the glory of God that becomes the judgment for us.
Another point: Why is there a judgment? The next verse: “All the nations,” that is, all people, everywhere, “all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them, one from another, as the shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” Why is there a judgment? There is a judgment to manifest the holiness of God and, by faith in Christ and by acts and works and by virtue of our baptism and everything that that entails, our own holiness. This is why we are so carefully adorning our church with iconography: to be surrounded by those who have gone before us and have shown the way of holiness. And all of these saints, many of whom we’re not familiar with, we need to get familiar with, to show that holiness itself is something for us.
Yesterday, some of you may have read that in Dallas, Texas, a former bishop, one of the most prolific and influential and hard-working bishops of our Orthodox Church in America, Archbishop Dmitri, who had reposed, who died, five years ago… and as is our strict Orthodox tradition, he was not embalmed when he died; our strict Orthodox tradition is not to do that. However, he died, he was buried without embalming, and yesterday they were going to exhume his body and move him to a crypt that they had prepared outside of the cathedral grounds. They exhumed his body—he died five years ago—and they opened his tomb, and he was completely incorrupt. He had not rotted; he had not decayed. And this is one of many signs of holiness, but it wasn’t just that. Then there were testimonies about the wonderful things that he had done and the hospitality that he had shown to other people and the kindness that he had shown to those whom he didn’t know and how he poured out his heart to those who wanted to embrace Christ in truth and how he shared his wealth with those who are poor. And it is this confirmation of holiness that we see in individuals like the saints that are adorning our walls and those saints who are yet to be recognized.
Why do we have a judgment? To show the holiness of God in people. So it says he separates all people as if separating the sheep, that is, those who recognize the voice of the Shepherd, those who are obedient to the Shepherd, those who are listening and following the Shepherd, from the goats, and the goats are those who are stubborn, those who don’t want to listen, those who want their own way. We can think about all of these things, and we can think about the judgment and that it requires the revelation of the glory of God and experiencing that, and it requires the revelation of the holiness of God and that holiness that is in the people of God to be separated from one another.
And the final point is this. We have to ask: What kind of God would do this? What kind of a… Some people would make him out to be a monster and say, “You go through life, it’s very difficult, you get sick, you lose people, you lose your job, unfair things happen to you, people get murdered, they get beheaded, and then at the end of all of it, you get judged!” It’s like: What kind of God does that? And the answer is: It is the God who loves us, who loves us so much that he becomes one of us to show us that it is actually possible to live in obedience to God.
Did you hear the prokeimenon before the epistle this morning? It’s a special prokeimenon just for today; it’s not the normal tone 7 one. It says, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power.” Right? The judgment. But it doesn’t stop there. It says, “His understanding is beyond measure.” His understanding of us, of our situation, by becoming one of us; his understanding of the human condition is beyond measure, is beyond our capacity to comprehend.
But I want you to notice something in the gospel reading this morning that’s very telling, to demonstrate why the judgment is love. And, by the way, there are many saints, especially if you read… I put in the bulletin this morning some important writings about God’s anger, what that means. This concept of judgment is really about the love of God. And in the gospel reading this morning, it says, in two different verses: verse 34: “Then the king will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ ” Inherit the kingdom prepared for you. God prepared the kingdom of God for us! For those who love him. He loves us back by preparing a kingdom. We even heard it in the gospel reading last week, how he welcomes us back, puts a ring on our finger, puts sandals on our feet, gives us the best robe, kills the fatted calf—it’s all for us.
And then it says, in verse 41: “Then he will say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared…’ ” for who? For you? No. “Prepared for the devil and his angels.” In other words, Christ does not prepare hell for us! It’s not for us—if we believe, if we listen, if we act, if we recognize God in another person, in a human being who is in need. Hell is not for you. Hell is for the devil, and God loves us so much that he’s not preparing hell for us. So ultimately the judgment, you might say, is our own decision. It is the result of our decision; it is the result of our action.
And heaven or hell is the same thing. It is, in fact, the love of God. And the question is: How will you receive that love of God? How will you receive that presence of God? Will you love it? Will you anticipate it? like St. Paul said in 2 Timothy: “Finally there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that day”—listen—“and not only to me, but all who have loved his appearing.” All who have loved his appearing.
Now I know—we say this several times in the Liturgy and in other services—it says that we will have a defense, we say, “before the dread judgment seat of Christ.” Right? We say that. We all know that. We’ve heard it a thousand times. And it is fearful, and it is awesome, but for those who love God, we have to love his appearing; we have to anticipate his appearing, we have to wait for his appearing, and we have to use this term that they used in the early Church. It says, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, rescue us from this decaying world. Bring us to your kingdom.” And that’s why God, every Sunday and at every Liturgy, comes to us and fills us with himself so that we can have a foretaste of what is prepared for us.
So why is there a judgment? There’s a judgment to reveal the glory of God and to reveal his holiness in people. And why is God doing this? God is doing this because he loves us and he wants us to be with him forever. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have one week until we enter the Great Fast. Let us ponder these things that the Church is giving us to think about. Let us use the time of Great Lent, which starts in a week, to grow closer to him so that on that great Day we would be numbered among those who love his appearing.
To him who is our life, with the Father and the Spirit, be glory, honor, and majesty, always, now and forever, and to ages of ages. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!