The Return of Jesus Christ: Lord and King, Saviour and Judge. Matthew 24:36-51

At around the age of ten I discovered that I didn’t much care for examinations. I failed my 11+ exam and went to the kind of school that focused on technical rather than academic subjects. Metal work, woodwork, technical drawing, navigation, art. Several of the other academic subjects I had to study like Maths and English, French and Biology I failed quite spectacularly. I developed an aversion for examinations and spent my early life studiously avoiding them at all costs. I would turn the paper over, look at my watch, look at the questions, look at my watch and panic.

After school, at night school I learnt what’s called exam technique. Down the pub with our tutor we would discuss which questions were most likely to come up and try and beat the system gambling on which subjects to prepare for.

I even chose my university course because a large part of the grade was based on continuous assessment rather than the days of finals. I don’t know about you but I loathed examinations and still do. Many people view the return of Jesus just like that.  Except its one exam – the ultimate examination we cannot avoid.  In this season of Advent however, we are reminded that Jesus is coming back.

On that day our whole lives will be examined.  Our eternal destiny is in some way determined by the outcome of that exam. Does that fill you with apprehension or with joy?

I recently heard a lecturer describe his rather unusual philosophy of education. Ken Blanchard, author of the One Minute Manager, caused consternation among his fellow faculty members. On the very first day of the new academic year he would welcome his students by giving them the exam questions he was going to set in the end of the year. Then for the rest of the year he would teach them the answers. Why? His aim was to enable every single one of his students to get straight A’s. Is there anything wrong in that? Do you think his students paid attention during classes? Were they motivated to learn? Knowing their professor was going to help them get straight A’s?

Those of you who are teachers – would you like all your students to achieve A grades? To believe they could achieve it? Isn’t that your aim? Would you have liked to have gained A’s at school? An A in biology, an A in physics, chemistry, maths, double maths, An A in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Mandarin…An A in every subject? I would. Wouldn’t you like to have on your CV a triple 1st from
Oxford or an MBA from Harvard? How would you feel? Although Blanchard’s approach to education is a little unorthodox, it is ironically, entirely biblical.

God’s desire is that everyone of us gets straight A’s.

God wants each of us to achieve our human potential, to succeed, to win the prize. In Ezekiel 18:32, God says, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”  In the NT Paul explains to Timothy, “This is good and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3.

That is why in passages such as this we see Jesus explaining that although the day of the examination is unknown, it is coming and he wants us to pass with flying colours. To prepare us, to enable everyone to pass the test Jesus tells us ahead of time what the exam questions are going to be, and then gives us the answers. Lets look at them together in Matthew 24-25. Chapter 24 is primarily about the signs that will accompany the return of Christ. Clues that his return is near.

Read 24:6-14, 21. There has never been a time in history when these words have not been more true. As we have seen this week – concern over the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are not limited to
Iraq. We live in terrifying times but Jesus reassures us. Read 24:22. If chapter 24 is about the timing of the exam, chapter 25 is about the basis of the exam. In verses 14-30 Jesus explains we will be evaluated on what we have done with the talents he has entrusted to us. Have we acknowledged him as our Saviour? Have we served him as our Lord? That’s why I have said before now, we are not looking for volunteers to fill vacancies in our Sunday school programme or our cleaning team. We are all called to serve. That is why in the Spring we shall give some attention to how we can make full use of the talents God has entrusted to us.

In verses 31-46 Jesus explains still further that how we treat others reveals our heart attitude toward the Lord himself.

Read 25:34-36 & 40. Jesus is telling us ahead of time how to get straight A’s. What he expects us to believe and how he expects us to behave. There will be no trick questions on judgment day, no obscure verses in Leviticus or Obadiah to memorise, no Greek and Hebrew to master. Jesus has told us ahead of time? Why? Because God is not willing that any should perish. He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone.

Lets just take a time out and consider what it means to acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. The Bible says there is a past, present and future dimension to his role as saviour and judge. If we have received Him Jesus has saved us from the penalty of sin – that’s past tense. He is saving us from the power of sin – that’s the present. And He will one day soon save us from the presence of sin. That’s future – that’s why heaven will be so glorious. So Jesus is our Saviour, past, present and future. But he is also our judge, past, present and future. He has, past tense paid the price of sin by dying in our place on the cross. The judge left his throne and took our place in the dock, paying the penalty we deserve - death.

Romans tells us that the judgment of God is also, present tense, being revealed against all ungodliness and those who suppress the truth. That means, sometimes in this life we suffer the consequence of our sin and rebellion like when it is exposed. As you know ignoring your tax return or that fixed penalty notice for speeding is no excuse. Doing nothing will not make the law go away. It will only lead to greater judgment. One day Jesus will judge those who have in this life ignored Him for he deems it wilfull rebellion. So just as salvation has a past, present and future sense, so does judgment. He died so we wouldn’t have to. Judgment is past for those who accept his judgment.

Those who refuse must pay it for themselves one day soon. Let me read to you some sober words from 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day when he comes to be glorified in his holy people and be marveled at among all those who have believed. With this in mind, we constantly pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling.” Do you notice what Paul is doing here again? Giving us the question and the answer ahead of time. So we know what it will happen when Jesus returns. 

Jesus has explained that although we don’t know when the exam will be, we must be ready, and he has given us not only the final question ahead of time, not only the correct answer but he has given us a personal tutor, the Holy Spirit to help us get straight A’s in the school of life. There is therefore no excuse.  “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord,” Paul declares, “we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).

Realizing that Jesus Christ will one day soon come in awesome judgment, the sensible unbeliever should repent and receive Him as Lord and Saviour now. The obedient Christian will be motivated to faithfully present the gospel to those who will listen in order that they too might be saved. The faithful Christian will be about his father’s business not knowing the hour of Christ’s return. When you think of Jesus coming back to judge the living and the dead, does it fill you with dread or with joy? On Thursday afternoon I had an exam. What I didn’t know was that before I even sat down I had passed, on the basis of my course work. But the examiners didn’t tell me. They grilled me for an hour and I became more and more convinced I had failed. Then they sent me out of the room for a coffee. When I came back in they told me I had already passed. The oral examination was merely to help me evaluate my studies and see where I could improve for the future. It was a test – not to see if I would pass or fail, but to decide how well I had done. That is what its going to be like when Jesus returns for those who believe.

Our eternal destiny is decided, humanly speaking, when we respond to Jesus, not after the exam. The exam question is what did we make of Jesus Christ? How did we respond to the love of God revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ, who died in our place to take away our sin, to take the punishment we deserve. When we die or when he returns, which ever comes first, the exam on judgement day will merely reveal what has already been decided. It will not decide our eternal destiny but reveal the destiny we have already chosen. If we wait till then to decide, it will be too late. We will have already chosen. Read 24:42.

If you are in any doubt about your relationship to Jesus Christ do not leave this morning without being sure. The question is simple. How did we respond to Jesus Christ? The correct answer is to repent and believe. To receive Him as your Lord and your Saviour, and in love and grateful thanks give your life in His service in thought, word and deed. Then when he returns, you will not be ashamed and Christ will not be disappointed. Instead we will hear him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”