FIRST WORDS AND FINAL WORDS
Devotional for Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017 based upon Matthew 25: 31-46
I retired on June 30, 2014, after serving as pastor of the same southern California congregation for forty years. My final Sunday was June 29. What I would say during the sermon on my final Sunday was very important to me. There were certain things I wanted to be sure to say to the congregation, whom I had known and loved and been pastor for for forty years. I spent a lot of time and prayer thinking through my final words.
Our Gospel lesson for Christ the King Sunday contains Jesus’ final words – His final message before the crucifixion. I am sure that what He said during this final message was very important to Him. What did He say?
In Jesus’ final message before the crucifixion He tells of the day when He will come in His glory. All the angels will be there, and all the people who have ever lived will be there. His first act as the newly crowned, rightful King of the universe will be to separate all people into two groups – sheep and goats. To those on the right – to the sheep – He will say, “Come, you that are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (verse 34) Then he will give a whole list of human hurts and will describe the response of the sheep to those hurts. The first act of Christ as the newly crowned King will be to applaud His people’s acts of compassion. What Jesus makes the biggest deal of in this – His final message before His crucifixion – are the works of compassion of His people, who have received His compassionate work of salvation.
Now if Matthew 25 contains the last recorded message of Jesus before the crucifixion – the last recorded message of His three-year public ministry – what about His first recorded message? What did Jesus say during the first time that the Bible says He got up to speak?
To find the answer to that question we turn to Luke 4 – to a time when Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth. He went to the synagogue – to that community and religious gathering place where He had gone many, many times while growing up. He went back to the synagogue, where He had studied the books of Moses, the law, and the prophets. The law He had come to fulfill, and the prophets who spoke of the day of hope when He would be coming. Luke tells us, “He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. . . .” (Luke 4: 16-17)
As best-selling author Max Lucado, speaking on this passage, points out, this is the only time in the Bible where Jesus chooses a place in the Bible. This is the only time in the Bible where it specifically mentions that someone handed Jesus a Bible and said, “Here, please pick out a passage for us.” Imagine handing God a Bible and asking Him to pick out a verse. Just imagine. If you were to hand God a Bible and ask Him to pick a verse, what verse do you think He would pick? What one passage from the entire Old Testament do you think He would select? Luke tells us, “He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. . . .”
You might think that He would have stopped at Isaiah 53 – the song of the suffering servant that speaks of Him so clearly – “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53: 5) But instead He kept on going until He got to Isaiah 61, where He read, “The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4: 18)
Here we have the first sentence of the first sermon of Jesus recorded in the Bible. The only time mentioned in the Bible where Jesus selects and reads a passage from the Bible, and whom and what does He read about? He reads about the poor. “The spirit of the Lord has anointed Me – has chosen Me – to bring good news to the poor.”
The only time in the Bible where it is specifically recorded that Jesus reads a passage from the Bible – and a passage which He Himself chooses – and whom does He read about? It must be those whom He must have a special heart for. The poor. And in the rest of verse 18, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed.
If the first act of our Lord Jesus Christ – after He is crowned as the rightful King of the universe – is to separate the sheep from the goats. And if the factor that makes sheep sheep and goats goats is the way their faith leads them to respond to the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, and imprisoned. And if in the first sermon that Jesus gave He talked about God’s concern for the poor, that must have a lot to say to us today, who live in a world where so many people are living in extreme poverty.
If in His last recorded sermon and in His first recorded sermon, Jesus talked about God’s heart for the poor, we need to ask ourselves, What kind of heart do I have for the poor? Do I have God’s kind of heart for the poor?
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE