Fitted for Hard Times (3 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:19-20, 26-33, 40-42.

Fitted for Hard Times v_03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

REVIEW:

Part One: The Conditions of Discipleship

Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship

NEW:

Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

I imagine all of us has experienced driving behind someone who is driving another car ahead of us, showing us the way.  This experience was much more intense in the olden days before cell phones to ask questions and smart phones to find your own directions, so bear with me if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.

Anyway, the person you’re following is your lifeline between where you are and where you want to be.  At some point a traffic light comes between you.  True to their usual form, the leader speeds through the yellow light, leaving you behind at the red.  Distance and cross-traffic cars coming between you cause you to lose sight of the leader.  You can hope to catch up or you can hope they pulled over to wait for you, but those are pretty much your two options.  What sounded like a simple trip has now become more complicated.

That’s a little window on what following Jesus can feel like.  Sunny days and good times can make discipleship seem easy.  But then difficulties emerge and we feel separated from our Savior.  In those moments, courage is needed.  Here’s good news: Jesus provides courage for His disciples!

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

  1. We can have courage because God supplies us with the right words (vs. 19-20).

Jesus warned we would face persecution and informed us these were opportunities to witness.  As we saw last week, facing persecution was one of the costs of discipleship.  Jesus warned it would be present in all levels of society: at the family level, city government, regional government, and across the Roman Empire.

Surprisingly, the result of persecution at all levels could be DEATH.  Jesus spared the disciples none of the truth, warning about the worst-case scenario.

He promised to supply the words when witness opportunities arise.  This is kind of ironic because several years ago, public speaking was supposedly the number one fear people had, with death being number two. (Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s take on those survey results: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” (Jerry Seinfeld, retrieved from https://www.gingerpublicspeaking.com/article/do-people-really-fear-public-speaking-more-than-death on 28 May 2020.)

So here we have Jesus directly addressing the so-called number one fear, saying, “When you have opportunity to witness to the authorities, don’t worry about it, the Holy Spirit will be talking through you.”  Wow.  OK, now that we have the number one fear dealt with, let’s move on to number two; being put to death by those guys.

But seriously, Jesus told His Apostles, “Of all the things you may worry about, don’t let the fear of WORDS stop you, because we’ve got that covered.  It’ll be our words, not yours.”  Or, as Matthew recorded Jesus’ words, “IT WILL NOT BE YOU SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER SPEAKING THROUGH YOU.”  You will be God’s “mouthpiece!”

This is an excellent perspective to have on all of life, so let’s put it on a bumper sticker: “Life is not about me and now, it’s about God and eternity!”  Use that as your “north star” and life will be a lot easier and more productive.

  1. We can have courage because the secrets of our persecutors will be revealed (vs. 26-27).

Evildoers prefer to do their evil deeds under the cover of darkness.  The first fear to be overcome by courageous disciples was fear of words.  The second fear is fear of the dark.  Unlike a childish fear of the dark, this might be a fear of being swept under the rug; of having one’s witness made ineffective by a cover-up.

We do not fear their darkness because it will all come to light.  Jesus overcame the fear of words with a promise to supply words.  He overcame this fear of darkness by promising that the evil deeds done in darkness will be made known; they will be brought into the light.  More than that, their witness will not be in vain.  Instead, the words Jesus gives them in secret they will proclaim in the DAYLIGHT from the rooftops!

There is a third way to understand this promise.  The Gospels tell us (Matthew 8:20; John 14:26; 16:12-15) that there were times the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching.  After His Resurrection, however, the meaning became clear to them and they proclaimed those truths.

  1. We can have courage because we fear God, not man (v. 28).

God has complete power over everything that might make us afraid.  This is the third fear Jesus discussed w/t Apostles.  Here is where fear of death is addressed.

People of faith realize death is not a fearful thing, but is our release from this world.  Neither death nor dying are to be feared, because our faith focus is on God, not evil people.  It is natural to dread dying; the physical pain and loss of health that precedes death.

But Jesus is not talking about death in general terms, as we have been.  He is talking about MEN who will use pain and the threat of death to cause the disciples to recant their faith.  Such individuals are not to be feared because their power is limited to the BODY only.  They cannot harm the SOUL.

Here again, the matter is one of perspective: keep your attention on God, who is capable of destroying both BODY and SOUL in hell. Don’t worry about what people can do to you; their worst is still only temporary.  As it is written in Proverbs 29:25 = FEAR OF MAN WILL PROVE TO BE A SNARE, BUT WHOEVER TRUSTS IN THE LORD IS KEPT SAFE.

Even death is not the end of our witness.  This fact is implied in the survival of the SOUL who shows respectful fear of God.  The SOUL who does not respect God has no place in eternity: as v. 28 plainly says, it is destroyed, not “tormented.”

  1. We can have courage because we’re very valuable to God (vs. 29-31).

When we are frightened, it is natural to feel God’s “absence.”  Some call these “wilderness experiences,” times we feel as if God has abandoned us in the wilderness, left us to fend for ourselves.

But the Bible is clear that God’s character and His will do not change.  So if we feel as if God is distant, it’s not because He moved!

This fourth fear Jesus addressed is fear of abandonment.  When we are in the throes of it, the feeling of God’s distance can seem very real.

As God is in the details, He is also in charge of the “big picture.”  When we feel abandoned, we need to remember God is in charge and He is still with us, working His will in our lives.  Jesus offered two examples of God being involved in both the details and the big picture.

Example #1: sparrow flight.  SPARROWS were the food of very poor folk because they were cheep (pun intended)!  Jesus said two of them were sold for a PENNY – an asarion – one-sixteenth of a working man’s daily wage.

We assume FALL TO THE GROUND as a reference to a sparrow dying on a tree limb and dropping to the dirt.  Actually, it pictures a routine flight from the limb to the ground.  How many times a day does that happen?  Wouldn’t this be the very example of “the small stuff?”

It’s as if Jesus said to them, “Listen, guys, a sparrow doesn’t travel from branch to ground without your Father knowing it.  I think you can trust Him to keep track of YOU!”  “After all,” He continued, “you’re worth more than MANY pennies!”

Example #2: scalp census.  Jesus assured the Twelve that God knew them so intimately, He knew the number of hairs on their heads.  (Some of us make it easier for God to keep track of that number!)  It is funny.  When we’re having a “pity party, table for one,” we think, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.  Nobody sees or cares how much I’m suffering.”  False!  Jesus reassures us God knows us and keeps track of us, even down to a useless statistic like the number of hairs on our heads.  Psalm 40:12 is interesting in connection with v. 30.

FOR TROUBLES WITHOUT NUMBER SURROUND ME; MY SINS HAVE OVERTAKEN ME, AND I CANNOT SEE.  THEY ARE MORE THAN THE HAIRS OF MY HEAD, AND MY HEART FAILS WITHIN ME.

In these two examples Jesus may be using exaggeration to make His point, but in any case, He’s assuring us we are not abandoned.  Just the opposite; God knows us intimately and cares for us completely.

  1. We must have courage because these days have eternal significance (vs. 32-33, 40-42).

Our discipleship in this world reveals our eternal destination.  We need to be careful here; on the surface it seems Jesus is teaching we can earn salvation by acknowledging Him and that we can lose our salvation by disowning Him.

The truth goes deeper than this; our salvation is not so easily gained or lost.  In fact, it is not by any works of ours gained or lost.  It is God’s gift; His grace to us.

Instead, what Jesus teaches here is two-fold. First, acknowledging or disowning is not just a verbal act and it is not a single action.  Rather, it is the course of a person’s life.  Our character, the general trend of our days is in view.

Second, it is the testimony offered by our day-to-day decisions that gives evidence of our salvation.  People headed toward acknowledgement before the Father will behave in faithfulness to His teaching. People headed to being disowned will behave in ways that deny God to the world.

Jesus has just candidly addressed four fears and offered promises to encourage His followers to remain faithful in the face of those fears. Here he describes the outcome of those who give into fear (disowning) and those who resist fear (acknowledging).

Our discipleship in this world determines our reward in the next (40-42).  These verses are actually more for the people who will assist the Apostles than for the Apostles themselves, but they are instructive for all of us.

Judgment Day will settle two important issues for each person.  The first and most important is the salvation.  Persons who receive God’s gift of salvation are true disciples and will be welcomed into God’s presence for all eternity; the receive immortality.

The secondary determination is related to works; the kind of things we did in our time on Earth.  For the unbelieving, those who will be destroyed in hell (v. 28), any revelation of their works simply proves God’s condemnation; the evil they did proves they deserve the Second Death.

For the believers, an inventory of each disciple’s good works is the basis for heavenly reward.  In the Bible these rewards are pictured as CROWNS.  It is true that eternal life with God in heaven is reward enough.  But God, in His extravagant grace, further rewards good deeds.

Jesus states the principle in v. 40, elaborates on it in v. 41, and offers an example in v. 42.

The Principle.  The Apostles were to be encouraged, because the people who receive them peaceably (vs. 11+12) have, by proxy, actually received God the Father.

The Elaboration.  The person who receives a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN has received someone whom the Lord is using to represent Himself to the world.  They will receive the same REWARD the Lord has prepared for the PROPHET and the RIGHTEOUS MAN.

The Example.  Receiving a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN need not be a complicated matter; a simple act of kindness like sharing a CUP OF COLD WATER is sufficient to merit a reward if the motive for the act is recognition of his discipleship.

The REWARD referred to in v. 42 is not the primary REWARD of salvation, but the secondary REWARD given to the saints upon their admission to heaven.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

As we’ve seen, this passage takes a long view on the subject of discipleship.  It encourages us to be disciples by reminding us that what we do in our daily lives has repercussions into eternal life.

Writing in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra Nathan C. Schaeffer took a similarly long view and wrote the following: “At the close of life, the question will not be, ‘How much have you gotten?’ but ‘How much have you given?’  Not ‘How much have you won?’ but ‘How much have you done?’  Not ‘How much have you saved?’ but ‘How much have you sacrificed?’ It will be ‘How much have you loved and served,’ not ‘How much were you honored?’”

(Retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/life%E2%80%99s-close on 28 may 2020.)

It takes courage to be Jesus’ disciple.  In the verses we surveyed today we saw Jesus address five fears that would be very typical in the experience of those who genuinely want to follow Jesus.  He addressed fear of words, fear of the dark (evil), fear of death, fear of abandonment, and fear of failure.  In each case, He taught that our response must be trust in God and that our response matters.

Jesus did not promise to relieve us of those fears or help us to avoid them.  Instead, He offered courage through the Holy Spirit and a perspective on fearful circumstances that is faithful to see and follow-through on these opportunities to witness.  Our courage for discipleship, like our status as disciples, is Jesus’ gracious gift.

 

RESOURCE: Message #1323

 

Fitted for Hard Times (1 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:1-15 in your Bible.  Part One: The Conditions of Discipleship

Fitted for Hard Times (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

In the white collar world of professional businessmen, there has been a lot of popular press written on the subject of leadership.  In the Bible, a lot is said about discipleship and service.  How’s that for an illustration of the clash of cultures?

The subject of discipleship, of training and being trained in following Jesus, is so important we’ll devote the next three weeks to studying Jesus’ method of discipleship in Matthew 10.  It is a rich vein of teaching, so we are going to sink a deep shaft into it.

To stimulate our thinking, it want to share a few insights into the subject of discipleship, representing varied viewpoints.

Nineteenth century Danish theologian Soren Kierkagaard wrote, “I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, “If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.”  Kierkagaard’s comment?  “And no one laughed.”

The reformer Martin Luther wrote, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

American evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “It is better to train ten people than to do the work of ten people. But it is harder.”

These three men all observed, in their different ways, the essential nature of discipleship in the Christian life.  Real belief is manifest in spiritual growth, as haphazard as it may look from the outside.  There is no choice in this matter; Jesus’ followers are disciples or they follow someone else.

CONTEXT: In Matthew 9, Jesus has called Matthew to be a disciple.  He is the last one to be called to follow Jesus.  Then, at the end of the chapter, Jesus looked compassionately on the crowd gathered before Him and urged His disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for more workers in the field.  These two chapters have a focus on Jesus’ disciples, His partners in ministry.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

  1. To be a disciple you must first be named as one of His people (vs. 2-4).

The Twelve are named four times in the New Testament.  The four lists are here in Matthew 10, Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13; there is no listing in John.

This is the only time in Matthew and Mark they are called APOSTLES. The word itself has a specific meaning: “messenger, envoy, ambassador.”  Hebrews 13:1 refers to Jesus as an APOSTLE.

When the word came into use as a title for a church officer, its meaning widened.  At first, only the Twelve were called Apostles.  Then Paul and five others were called APOSTLES.  Then leaders over groups of churches got the title.

Regardless of one’s title, every believer is first called by God.  We are saved because God decided to offer salvation to us.  Here are some general observations about the original twelve Apostles.

– The Twelve were all laymen; there were no priests among them.

– They were not chosen because they gave Jesus any advantage.

– They were a mix of personalities w/ some opposites.  (For example, the opposing political views of Matthew the tax collector versus Simon the Zealot, the opposite personalities of Peter and the “Sons of Thunder” versus “Doubting Thomas.”)

– They were called to follow Jesus, they didn’t volunteer.  Some of Jesus’ followers did volunteer, but they are not called APOSTLES.

The Apostles were ordinary men whom God empowered to extra-ordinary things.  They were so important to the plan of God that Revelation 21:14 tells us that the foundation stones of the heavenly city are inscribed with their names!

  1. To be a disciple you must come under Jesus’ authority (v. 1)

JESUS CALLED HIS DISCIPLES TO HIM: Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, called each of these men individually.  It was His decision that made them disciples; it was their decision to accept.

To be CALLED is to be invited by God to accept His will.  Everyone is CALLED to be saved.  In 2 Peter 2:9 we are told it is God’s will that no one should perish, that all should repent.  This is a universal calling.

Those who accept God’s call to salvation receive an additional calling to do a specific kind of ministry in a specific time and place.  In the modern Church we have mistakenly used the language of “calling” for professional church leaders.  That is unbiblical.  All disciples are CALLED to minister for Jesus.

HE…GAVE THEM AUTHORITY = On this occasion, Jesus delegated to the Twelve His AUTHORITY to do two things in particular.  One: TO DRIVE OUT EVIL (“unclean”) SPIRITS.  These spirits are in opposition to God.  They do evil and tempt people to do evil.  They were to be driven out because their evil is toxic to humans, separating their victims from God.

Two: TO HEAL EVERY DISEASE AND ILLNESS.  As Jesus gave the Twelve AUTHORITY to do these two different things, it is plain that not every physical illness is a result of demonic activity.  Matthew Henry’s comment is good: “The design of the gospel is to conquer the devil and cure the world.”  Last week we saw Jesus doing both these things in Luke 4.

On other occasions (i.e., Matthew 19:28) Jesus’ delegated authority would take other forms.  What’s important for us here is to note that His disciples do not exercise their own authority.  Instead, they minister under His.

  1. As a disciple you must do service and witness at the same time (vs. 5-8).

Jesus sent out the Twelve after giving them INSTRUCTIONS.  This is a potent word, used in a variety of situations: the commands given by military leaders to their subordinates, the rules or principles given by a teacher to their students, and the word of a king or emperor as laws put upon the people.

This emphasis on service and witness means the object of ministry is not self or other believers, but others, and particularly the LOST.  In this case Jesus’ command was to minister only to their fellow Jews: the Gentiles and Samaritans would be reached at another time.  Jesus’ command to GO… TO THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL fulfilled the Old Testament promises that a Messiah would be sent to Israel.  This is an example to us that ministry is not about gratifying self, but is focused on meeting the needs of others.

Our ministry of witness is to PREACH…THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR.  Repentance is the response for which we’re aiming as we witness, because repentance is necessary for salvation (Mark 6:12).  THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN refers to the people of God, distinguished by true faith.

To say t KINGDOM is NEAR means two things.  One, it is close enough to be recognized by those who have faith and the Spirit to see it.  Two, that a decision is demanded: don’t procrastinate.  The KINGDOM is NEAR in time; the opportunity to join it is now.

Our ministry of service is to relieve all kinds of distress.  SICK…DEAD…LEPROSY…DEMONS are a representative sample of all the kinds of ills human beings can suffer.  Jesus gave His disciples AUTHORITY over them all!  Following the example of the Apostles, we are to provide the material and spiritual service that results in healing other’s suffering.  The Apostles returned later and testified that they had received power to accomplish these works of service.

Witness and service are to be given generously.  As Jesus said, “FREELY YOU HAVE RECEIVED, FREELY GIVE.”  God gives to us with grace and generosity; it reveals a lot about the true state of our faith when we don’t show that same kind of grace and generosity to others.  In this, the apostles were to follow God’s example and thereby set an example for us to follow.  This instruction also helps us avoid the temptation to build our own ”empire” instead of building God’s Kingdom.

  1. As a disciple you must depend on God, not yourself (vs. 9-11).

This requires you to not trust in your worldly resources.  There is a personal reason Jesus gave this command: the Apostles were to trust God to provide for their material needs.  To teach them this, Jesus instructed them to take no provisions for themselves: no money, no bag for carrying an extra tunic or sandals, nor even a staff.  If they took it along, they were depending on their own resources, not on God.  The phrase TAKE ALONG meant “procure.”  It was about going out to get all the stuff a person might need for a life on the road.

Jesus had a theological reason for this teaching.  If you and I do only the things we know we can do, then we get the glory.  On the other hand, if we do the things that only God could do, He gets the glory.

Jesus had two practical reasons.  First, if you know you’re going to depend on others for all your material needs, you have an obvious motive for ministry.  If your next meal depends on you witnessing, you’ve got some urgency in your belly that doesn’t depend on “willpower.”

Second, this was a short-term “training” mission, not an extended trip.  They were not going to the Gentiles or Samaritans.  There was no need for the extensive preparations that a lengthier journey would require.  Ministry was the priority.

Disciples trust God to equip them through the people He has prepared.  Notice the principle behind Jesus’ instruction in vs. 9-11: worthiness.  The worker is a worthy person.  FOR THE WORKER IS WORTHY OF HIS KEEP.  Those who sacrifice themselves to do the work of ministry deserve our support.

The worker is to search for a WORTHY PERSON to supply His needs and stick with them.  The worthiness of this person would be spirituality first and material support second.  Also, because the Apostles would be associating with that person throughout their stay, their worthiness would be measured by their reputation in the community: would association with them help or hinder their witness?  Jesus told them to STAY AT HIS HOUSE UNTIL YOU LEAVE.  It would be tempting to “trade up” to a nicer house or better food, but that would be ungrateful to someone who’d been generous and might have impaired the reputation of the Apostles.

  1. As a disciple you must practice peace and judgment (vs. 11-15).

Begin new relationships with peace, but be prepared to render judgment.  Remember that the home in this example belongs to a WORTHY PERSON, so it is reasonable to expect a peaceful greeting.

The first step, then, is to give the household a peaceful GREETING (12).  In Jewish culture, that was “Peace to this house” or “Shalom.”

The second step was determined by the response of the household.  If they responded to the greeting of PEACE with PEACE, then they were deserving of PEACE.  In that case, the Apostles were to STAY AT THAT HOUSE until they left, and allow their PEACE to REST ON IT too.

On the other hand, if they responded to the greeting of PEACE by not welcoming them or not listening to them (v. 14), then the Apostles were to LET their PEACE RETURN to them and shake the dust of that house or town off their feet.  In Jewish culture, shaking the dust off one’s feet or clothing was a nonverbal curse (Nehemiah 5:13; Acts 18:6).  For example, it was their habit to shake the dust off before entering Gentile lands so as not to carry any of the soil of the Promised Land with them.  Before leaving Gentile lands, they would shake the dust off to avoid bringing any of that unclean soil with them into the Promised Land.  This was a curse that would come to pass ON THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.

Realize that not everyone will accept your witness and service.  These instructions make the most sense when we remember Jesus was preparing His disciples for the possibility of rejection and acceptance.  He was sending them out of the safety of their group and the world was as likely to show them the back of its hand as offer a hand in fellowship.

His other purpose is to demonstrate this is serious business.  To reject God’s ambassadors is a rejection of God; to reject God is to put one’s self under a curse that will come to full and deadly fruition on Judgment Day.  As Jesus explained in verse 40, “HE WHO RECEIVES YOU RECEIVES ME, AND HE WHO RECEIVES ME RECEIVES THE ONE WHO SENT ME.”

Though we come peaceably to witness and serve, there is no guarantee we will be received peaceably.  When people make up their own minds, their response is their responsibility, not ours.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

We observed earlier the Twelve were called to follow Jesus, they did not volunteer.  The difference between the two is instructive:

  • Disciples surrender their rights in service to their master, but volunteers retain their rights and some are quite likely to bellyache at perceived violations of their rights.
  • Discipleship is an act of complete self-sacrifice while volunteers offer only a portion of their resources, often what they can easily spare.
  • Discipleship is a way of life while volunteerism is more like a hobby; something we enjoy but is not central to our survival or growth.
  • Disciples live to serve while volunteers expect to be rewarded for their service.

While it is true that the church needs workers, God calls all of us to be disciples.  The difference between the two makes all the difference.  A person can be a volunteer in the church without being a disciple, but a disciple will always be a gracious volunteer.

 

Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship

Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

 

RESOURCES:

Message #1321

http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/d/discipleship.htm

The Matthew Henry Commentary, Matthew Henry

Someone IS Watching and it DOES Matter

Sheep and Goat

Please read Matthew 25:31-46.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

                The picture of the lamb and goat above were rendered to emphasize the “cute” anthropomorphic aspect of this parable.  Jesus chose to tell a parable that substituted animals for people.  Everyone hearing it understood this was a metaphor because Jesus made that clear in verse 32.

Having preached this passage three times previously in my 30+ years of preaching, I have always wondered why Jesus chose to substitute animals for people.  Part of the reason is that He often starts parables with a familiar scene and then veers off in an unexpected direction. But this one is blazing a new trail from the first verse.  Something else is going on, and that answer has never really satisfied my curiosity.

Another answer was revealed to me in a nightmare three days ago.  The details of the nightmare are gone from my memory, but I recall lying awake in bad silently crying as the Lord made it clear to me.  The use of animals and the tedious repetition of the good deeds is designed to set an emotional counterpoint to the fact that this is a nightmarish scene on the left hand of the Shepherd King.

Life is serious, folks.  To die and then face Judgment Day is most serious.  Jesus brilliantly told this parable the way He did because it emphasizes the horror of sin and its deadly consequences.  The parable packs a greater emotional punch because it was told the way Jesus told it.

The glorious light of the Son of Man on His throne is not a gentle glow, but the blazingly bright searchlight that reveals the insides of person.  Like an x-ray, it exposes human personalities, laying bare guilt and innocence.

The contrast of the sheep going to heaven and the goats going to hell reveals this scene is not just a throne room, it is more than a court room, it is also a slaughterhouse.  To make the contrast even more visceral, the condemned are sentenced to eternal conscious torment.

When you strip away the anthropomorphic metaphor and realize these are human beings – not “goats” – who are finally and eternally rejected, the scene becomes as frightening as it should be.

Let’s not confuse the Gentle Shepherd of John 10 with the Shepherd King of Matthew 25.  They occupy opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

One more thing to consider: both the sheep-people and the goat-people are surprised by the Shepherd King’s verdict.  This passage is meant to slap self-confidence right out of our heads.  This was Jesus’ last word to His disciples before His death.  It is a provocative one, meant to motivate us to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and prepare to meet our maker.

  1. The context and the one main point. (31-33)

All parables in chapter 25 deal with Judgment Day.  Understand that Judgment Day is not a trial; it is a sentencing.  God knows all and he knows all of us perfectly.  At this point the issue of heaven or hell is already decided; this is a sentencing hearing.

Of the three parables in chapter 25, this parable is the only one to describe Judgment Day.  It is written; THE SON OF MAN will be IN HIS GLORY, seated on HIS THRONE IN HEAVENLY GLORY.  In His glorified state ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE GATHERED BEFORE HIM.  All people who have ever lived will be gathered, and then separated one final time.  God will bring to pass the end of all evil.

The separation of the people is described in verse 33, the purpose for it in verse 46.  In verse 33 we see the SHEEP will be gathered to His RIGHT hand.  The GOATS will be gathered on His LEFT hand.  Verse 46 reveals that the purpose is to pronounce judgment: to reward the sheep and condemn the goats.

These parables come between Jesus’ teaching about the last things in chapter 24 and His arrest and trial in chapter 26.  Jesus would experience His own “last days.”  There is an ironic similarity between these teachings and what comes next in Jesus’ life.

The main point of the parable is this: our works are important on Judgment Day.  If all you knew was this parable, you’d think works are the determining factor.  Note that the parable doesn’t actually say that, it simply does not mention any other factor.  Parables are, by their nature, narrow in their focus, designed to reinforce the one main point. Because we have the entire Bible, we know works are a secondary factor.  The primary factor of judgment is each person’s acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The secondary factor of works is evidence of the primary decision about Jesus.  They are proof of what’s truly in a person.  The works are evidence of God’s justice: God is right to exclude the GOATS and include the SHEEP, as their deeds demonstrate.

  1. He will keep the sheep. (34-40, 46)

The Shepherd King pronounces a blessing on those at His right (34).  There are six facts to be noted about the blessing.

One, He invites them to come into God the Father’s presence.

Two, He urges them to take their INHERITANCE, a place in God’s KINGDOM.

Three, their blessing has been in the works SINCE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.  This highlights God’s sovereignty.

Four, their reward is ETERNAL LIFE (46).

Five, in biblical culture, the RIGHT side is the side of intimacy and influence.  After He ascended to heaven, it was the place of honor Jesus occupied when He ascended to heaven.

Six, Jesus used SHEEP as a symbol of God’s faithful people because that was a biblical image.  God is symbolized by a Shepherd.

The reason given for their blessing: they helped the needy (35-36).  Six different kinds of needs are listed.  Jesus offered these as a representative sample, not as a preferred or exhaustive list. These are everyday needs involving people in ordinary situations.

Who are THE LEAST OF THESE BROTHERS? In the Bible, God identifies Himself with disadvantaged people.  That usually meant the poor, widowed, orphaned, and foreigners.

The reaction of the sheep-people to the blessing is surprise (37-40).  The text identifies them as THE RIGHTEOUS.  Their benevolent actions are evidence of their righteousness.  Their surprise is a measure of their innocence.

They had done all these things out of the love in their hearts.  They had no expectation of reward because their motive was love; they acted without any hint of a mixed motive or desire for reward.  In other passages, heavenly rewards are promised for godly living.  Acting to earn such rewards is an approved motive.

  1. The goats have got to go. (41-46)

The King pronounces a CURSE on those to His left (41).  We note four features to the CURSE.

One, He orders them to DEPART.

Two, they have no place in God’s kingdom but are exiled to a place of ETERNAL FIRE.

Three, as was the case with the sheep-people, the place of the goat-people has also been prepared, but it was created for someone else; THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS.

Four, their condemnation is described as ETERNAL PUNISHMENT.

The Shepherd Kings gives the reason for their cursing: they did not help the needy (42-43).  The same set of six needs is listed four times here and always in the same order. This attention to detail underlines God’s justice; He is comparing “apples to apples;” He is judging them fairly.

The reaction of the goat-people is also surprise, but for a reason entirely opposed to the sheep-people’s surprise (44-45).  The goat-people failed to do these things because neither the love of God nor the love of neighbor was in their hearts.

Their protest might be paraphrased as follows; “If we’d known it was You, we would have done these things.”  They are surprised to hear that Jesus identified Himself with people they dismissed as lowlifes, bums, and human trash.  They judged their fellow man as unworthy of charity; in response, Jesus will judge them as unworthy of a place in heaven.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

Anyone who reads this parable and does not come away with a healthy fear of the Lord has missed the point of this parable.  The stark contrast between the sheep and the goats ought to have every one of us rethinking how we are using the magnificent gift of life.

Proverbs repeatedly tells us fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Job 31:23 puts into words the form wise fear should take: FOR I DREADED DESTRUCTION FROM GOD, AND FOR FEAR OF HIS SPLENDOR I COULD NOT DO SUCH THINGS.  This is Job explaining his personal motivation for being a good guy and doing the right thing.

Persons who hoard their gifts, legalize their definition of neighbor, or have a flip attitude about Judgment Day are in peril of being unpleasantly surprised on that Day.  Jesus warned of the peril of hypocrisy in Matthew 7:21-23.

Proverbs 11 delivers a similar warning about wasting God’s gifts on selfish pursuits.  Verse four states, WEALTH IS WORTHLESS IN THE DAY OF WRATH, BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS DELIVERS FROM DEATH.  In verse 6, it is written; THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE UPRIGHT DELIVERS THEM, BUT THE UNFAITHFUL ARE TRAPPED BY EVIL DESIRES.

The refusal to do good is sin (James 4:17).  Sin has deadly and eternal consequences.  Only the intervention of Jesus Christ will save us from the fate of eternal separation from God.

Let us spend our days vigilant for opportunities to do good to others.  Be willing to speak up, offer help, and do right by those who need you.  The consequences of failure are too nightmarish to accept.

 

RESOURCES:

Messages #1169, 685, 33

Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Ben Witherington III

The Devil DIDN’T Make Him Do It

tempting

Please read Matthew 4:1-11.

         Let’s go back to the Old West, to the historic transcontinental railroad.  As the Union Pacific line was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon.  Before the bridge saw use, the builder loaded a train with extra cars and equipment, doubling its weight.  The overburdened train was then driven to the middle of the new bridge and left there an entire day.

One worker asked his boss, “Are you trying to see if you can break our bridge?”

“No,” the builder replied, “I’m trying to prove the bridge won’t break.”

We have a similar feeling when trials and temptations – times of testing – come into our lives.  We think God is trying to break us.

Instead, He is trying to prove to us that we can take it after all.  He is reminding us to trust in Him, rely on Him, and believe He has already given us all we need to endure the trial faithfully.  Just as Jesus triumphed over His temptations, so can we!

Jesus won His battle with temptation by staying secure in God’s word.

  1. Prologue. (4:1)

It seems strange to read that Jesus was lead by the Spirit into temptation.  That’s the opposite of the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).  Everyone knows that God doesn’t tempt His children (read James 1:13).

The location also feels wrong.  The DESERT is where Israel disobeyed God and then had to wander around 40 years.  In worldly logic, the DESERT is the opposite direction of where Jesus should be headed: Jesus should launch His ministry In Jerusalem.

You can sense God the Father left Jesus to deal with the devil and the desert alone.  Did the Spirit lead HIM INTO THE DESERT (1) only to drop Him off?  It’s possible; the next time any supernatural support is mentioned is after it’s over (v. 11).  It is human nature to feel or assume God’s absence when we hurt.  God is not absent during our trials. That’s discouragement talking, not faith.

  1. The first temptation: bread. (4:2-4)

The devil appears AFTER Jesus endured 40 days and nights of fasting.  I have a friend who has repeatedly fasted throughout the 40 days of Lent.  If his experience is typical, abstaining from solid food  does weird things to the body.

One might assume this experience left Jesus in a weaker physical and emotional state.  Commentator Rodney Reeves interprets the lack of food as being a further sign of God the Father separating Himself from Jesus.  After all, God provided daily food for Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).

It’s no surprise the devil’s first run at Jesus involves something as simple as food (3).  But the devil didn’t just lay out a loaf of bread and invite Jesus to eat it.  Instead, he used Jesus’ hunger as bait and said, “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, TELL THESE STONES TO BECOME BREAD.”

The temptation is not eating but using His supernatural authority to feed Himself.  The promise of food appealed to Jesus’ physical body; the desire to prove His identity appealed to His pride.
In His reply, Jesus transcended mere human nature & kept His focus on God the Father (4).  All three of Jesus’ replies are quotes from Deuteronomy 6 + 8.  This quote is part of Deuteronomy 8:3, where

Moses reminded the people that God had kept them alive in the desert by providing daily bread for them.

Jesus’ reply refutes the temptation saying, “I do not need bread to survive, but I cannot last a minute apart from God’s word.”  In keeping His focus on the Father, Jesus turned away from His physical hunger.

Ironically, later on in His ministry, Jesus will miraculously provide bread in the wilderness, feeding five and four thousand men at a time.  The bread and the power are not the only issues; it’s also the timing and the motive.

  1. The second temptation: fame. (4:5-7)

The second one is about shortcuts or laziness.  The devil supernaturally and bodily moved Jesus to THE HIGHEST POINT OF THE TEMPLE in Jerusalem (5).  It’s hard to imagine a more visible location in all of ancient Judea.  If Jesus were to have done as the devil suggested, it would have been a very visible, very public miracle.  It would have launched His earthly ministry in a spectacular way.

This temptation – like the first – dares Jesus to establish His identity as the Son of God: “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD.”  The devil also knows Scripture and attempted to twist Psalm 91:11-12 to provoke Jesus into doing what amounted to a “publicity stunt” (6).

In His reply, Jesus rejects earthly power, popularity, and sensational stunts in attempts to “prove” God’s existence and/or His  character.  He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, a section where Moses urged people not to test God’s patience with their disobedience, as they did at Massah.  Massah/Meribah both mean “quarrel.” It was there the people quarreled with one another, Moses, and God (see Exodus 17).  They complained against God and Moses and said, “Is the Lord with us or not?”  We are not to repeat their lack of faith, doubting God’s love or power.

All temptations are shortcuts because we trust our self rather than God and follow worldly ways instead of God’s way.  In this case, a successful jump from t temple’s roof might have allowed Jesus to assert His privilege and avoid that messy cross business.  It was a shortcut.

OR, in an unsuccessful jump, Jesus’ body would have been destroyed, His blood would have been shed for no good reason.  Either way, the devil would have won.  Happily, Jesus refused the shortcut and reaffirmed His trust in God the Father.

  1. The third temptation: power. (4:8-10)

The scene shifts again for the third temptation: Satan takes Jesus to A VERY HIGH MOUNTAIN (8).  Why go atop a mountain?  In ancient cultures, high places were the places where idols were worshiped.  As the devil wanted to be idolized/worshiped by Jesus, this is an obvious choice.

With this temptation the devil abandoned subtlety.  Showing Jesus ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD AND THEIR SPLENDOR, he offered them to Jesus if Jesus would BOW DOWN AND WORSHIP him (9).

As all hypocrites do, the devil thought everyone has the same motives he did.  He guessed Jesus would find this tempting for all the reasons he did.     But was this even tempting to Jesus?

My guess is that, to Jesus, this was the least appealing of the three temptations.

Jesus’ response is to go right back to the same section of Deuteronomy 6. Verse thirteen says, FEAR THE LORD YOUR GOD, SERVE HIM ONLY AND TAKE YOUR OATHS IN HIS NAME. It’s as if Jesus said, “Don’t disobey the 1st commandment; don’t worship to anything other than God.”  Jesus refused to worship anything other than God no matter what He was offered.

Jesus rejected Satan’s offer so thoroughly, He ordered Satan to get lost; “AWAY FROM ME, SATAN!”  He rejected an offer of authority by exercising His authority over Satan.

If this was possible at any time, I wonder why Jesus endured three temptations?  The experience prepared Jesus for difficulties the next three years would throw at Him.  Christ set a pattern for us to follow when we are tempted: trust God; follow His commands.

  1. Epilogue. (4:11)

The devil had to leave Jesus.  Jesus’ power is irresistible; the devil can be resisted (see James 4:7).  After the devil left Him, Jesus was attended to by angels sent by God t Father.  The text doesn’t say how they attended to Him, but my guess is that they…

…brought Him bread.

…assured Jesus they would protect Him from suffering harm before He got to the cross.

…encouraged Him that after this was over, He’d be seated at t right hand of God the Father.

In other words, as tokens of His victory over temptation, the angels gave Jesus all the things Satan had promised but never delivered.

Jesus won His battle with temptation by staying secure in God’s word.

Picture a married couple in bed.  The husband is having trouble getting to sleep.  He rolls over and says to his wife, who was having no trouble falling asleep, “Honey, are you awake?  Can I ask you a question?”

She rolls over and says, “I’m awake now.  What’s your question?”

“Is your love for me beyond temptation?” he asked.  “Say Paul Newman was trying to woo you away.  Would you still love me?”

She smiled at him and said, “Of course I would love you, dear.  And I would miss you very much!”

It doesn’t sound like she’s planning to try very hard to resist temptation, does it?  If we are to find victory over our own temptations, we have to follow Jesus’ example instead.

In this passage we’ve seen Jesus resisted the devil by doing the following:

1) Recognize temptations and trials will come – be prepared by prayer and Scripture knowledge.

2) Trust God’s promise that He has provided all you need to say no to temptation.

3) Expose falsehoods with the truth of the Bible.

4) In Jesus’ name, resist the devil; order him away.

 

RESOURCES

The Story of God Bible Commentary, Rodney Reeves.

Message #1133.

Opportunistic Evangelism

witness

The best witness follows God’s lead.

          “A little boy built a model ship, glued all the pieces together, and worked on it for hours.  It was perfect.  Every detail was correct, down to tiny sailors standing on the deck.  He put it in a glass case.  He wouldn’t let his brother play with it in the bathtub.  He was going to keep it perfect by keeping it safe.

“His parents bought a real boat so they could spend the weekends sailing out on the harbor.  They loved it.  At first.  It was a lot of work to maintain.  Boat owners will tell you that the day you bought your boat was the happiest day of your life, and the day you sold it was the second happiest.  At first, they used it a lot.  But then they used it less.  It was expensive.  After a few months, they went to spend a day sailing and found barnacles growing on the side, algae all over it, and a dead motor.  A real boat is only kept in shape by being used.

“The two boats worked in opposite ways.  The model was preserved by being kept safe.  The real boat was preserved by being used.”

<James Miller, found at https://illustrationexchange.com/illustrations?category=631.&gt;

CONTEXT: This is the last word in Matthew’s Gospel, the last thing Jesus says to His disciples, His final instructions before returning to heaven.  They were gathered on a mountain top in Galilee, their home territory, for this final encounter.  Incredible as it seems, Matthew honestly reports that some of the disciples WORSHIPED Jesus, but some still DOUBTED.   Let’s begin there.

For those who DOUBTED, the words of Jesus had no immediate meaning.  His promises of His authority and abiding presence were not for the doubters.  They weren’t committed and at that time, had no part with Him.  The promises were not for them.

Instead, Jesus’ promises were for those who had faith and WORSHIPED Him.  They knew and believed that He commissioned them under the AUTHORITY that had been given to Him by God the Father.  They knew and believed His promise to be with them ALWAYS was perfectly reliable.  They would count on His abiding presence to inform and empower their obedience to His commands.

And so it is for all of us in this very moment.  This passage is for everyone who worships Jesus as Lord of their life.  It will sound like mere words in the ears of those who have not crossed the threshold of faith.  Do you have a model faith or a real faith?  Know which you are as we begin.

  1. This passage has been misunderstood.

Matthew 28:19-20 is known as “The Great Commission” and is frequently cited as a call to evangelism.  On this basis we have been sending missionaries to foreign lands for over 150 years.

Preachers love to cite the four verbs as imperatives to soul-winning.  GO has been understood as being assertive in seeking out t unsaved, creating our own opportunities to tell others about Jesus.

MAKE DISCIPLES has been taken as a call to “soul winning,” a term that never appears in the Bible.  The emphasis is lopsidedly on making converts.

The fact that the word BAPTIZING appears here has been taken to mean that baptism is somehow necessary for salvation.  The evidence in Scripture points to baptism as a demonstration of salvation, not a means of obtaining it.

TEACHING is the most obvious of the four verbs and Jesus Himself explained the aim of our teaching ministry; “TO OBEY EVERYTHING I HAVE COMMANDED YOU.”

The usual use of this passage creates problems.  If Jesus’ Great Commission makes every disciple responsible to assertively create opportunities to witness, then we all bear responsibility for every human contact we make throughout the day.  This is a massive responsibility that none of us is capable of undertaking.  It is not biblical, not Jesus’ intended understanding of the Commission, and produces a lot of guilt about the subject of evangelism.

  1. How this passage should be understood.

At the risk of sounding like I am splitting hairs, a correct interpretation of the passage requires translating the word GO properly. We first need to observe the order of the words.  In the Greek, the word GO has emphasis because it comes first.  Here’s how a direct translation reads: “GOING THEREFORE DISCIPLE YE ALL THE NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATEVER I GAVE COMMAND TO YOU; AND BEHOLD WITH YOU I AM ALL THE DAYS UNTIL THE COMPLETION OF THE AGE.”

Second, we must observe the nature of the word: GO is a verb and we are commanded to it, but it is assumed we are going already.

As translated above, GOING THEREFORE is not a command to get moving, but to do something as you are moving.  As you live, put your real faith to work.  To put it another way, Jesus said, “As you go, make disciples.  Baptize them and teach them to be obedient.”

Now we can move to application of the rest of the commands.

The word DISCIPLE means to make new converts and to mature those who have accepted Jesus.  Discipleship is a life-long process where followers of Jesus help each other to mature spiritually.  I believe Jesus had Deuteronomy 6:6-7 on His mind as He gave this teaching.

THESE COMMANDMENTS THAT I GIVE YOU TODAY ARE TO BE UPON YOUR HEARTS.  IMPRESS THEM ON YOUR CHILDREN.  TALK ABOUT THEM WHEN YOU SIT AT HOME AND WHEN YOU WALK ALONG THE ROAD, WHEN YOU LIE DOWN AND WHEN YOU GET UP.

Even though the word GO is crucial for our understanding of this passage, in the Gk it is the word DISCIPLE that is the main verb.  It can be said that GO, BAPTIZE, and TEACH are all explanations of discipleship.  If you live for Jesus, the reason you draw breath today is so that you can disciple and be discipled. That’s the bottom line.

The word BAPTIZE is important to all Christians but not all of them will agree with the way I am about to define it.  Baptism is an action that is both a proof of a real faith and a means of discipleship.  It serves the purposes of witness and maturing a person’s faith.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has recognized this dual role of baptism and has historically used it as a means of maturing new believers.  For example, in the first century church, candidates for baptism had to go through THREE YEARS of preparation before they were baptized.

Finally, the word TEACH takes in all forms of instruction in Scripture and spiritual disciplines.  Because the main ingredients for maturing followers of Jesus are prayer and the Bible, it will always be necessary to be taught.  Folks who figure they have no more to learn reveal they have a “model” faith, not a “real” one.  A faith that works and is not just limited to display purposes is a growing faith.  There is always more to learn.

What we teach and learn draws us closer to God.  We grow by book learning and by life experience; we must not rely on one or the other but seek both.  Teachers teach by setting an example to follow as well as by passing along information, illustrating it with personal experience.  Teachers are lifelong learners.  In this life, we are both teachers and learners.  This is our greatest duty.

The best witness follows God’s lead.

We usually see witnessing as something we initiate, an opportunity we create by being assertive.  Worse, what often motivates us to witness is a false sense of guilt when we aren’t assertive, leading us to approach people in ways that aren’t genuine.  The result is often an awkward, unproductive encounter that may cause more harm than good.

This passage in Matthew’s Gospel indicates a better biblical way to approach witnessing.  Witnessing encounters start with the knowledge that God is the Initiator.  He will guide us to persons on occasions where He has already prepared their heart and ours.  He will give you words to say.

The second step is ours.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit for the urging to speak and the words to speak.  Awareness of a God-directed opportunity to witness will come to us quietly, a gentle urging that can be easy to ignore or overlook.  What’s needed is active hearts, eyes and ears to sense the opportunities as He sets them in front of us.

The third step is also ours.  We must speak up, say something.  What’s needed here is obedience, not eloquence.  These opportunities are time-sensitive immediate obedience is necessary.

The final step involves the witness, the other people, and God.  We need to fully see and hear the others as we enter into conversation with them, so we can find points of connection to them as people and points to connect them with God.  We need to be awake and aware of the Spirit’s guidance as the dialogue develops, and follow His lead.  In these instances, our book learning (the Bible) and our experience (testimony) will be useful, so we need to be prepared to talk about both of them.

Be forewarned.  These opportunities will not arise in moments convenient or comfortable for you.  Your adult skills of flexibility, risk assessment, and sensitivity will be required.  It will be tempting to “pass by on the other side” ala Luke 10, but you will not be obedient if you do so.

If you have never sensed God leading you in this way, then something is wrong at the center of the faith you’re claiming.  Persons with a “model” faith will not sense God leading them in this way; they’ve schooled themselves on how to ignore it.  Persons with a “real” faith will want to have this experience and will grow from it when they take a chance that Jesus’ promises of authority and abiding presence are true.

Labor Disputes

denarius

Please read Matthew 20:1-16 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

The first to cry “foul” are people who feel they have suffered loss.  You rarely hear people complain because they benefited unfairly.

For example, in one of last Sunday’s football games, a player for the LA Rams committed a foul against a player for the NO Saints.  But the referees did not call a foul.  Saints players and fans are outraged at the “no call” play and believe it cost their team the victory and a chance to play in the Super Bowl.

Imagine for a moment if the offending player called a time out, gathered the officials around him, and asked them to call a foul.  What if he pointed to the giant screen in the stadium and confessed?  What if he said, “See, there I am cheating.  I wish you’d go ahead and call a foul on me.  It’s not fair I should get away with such an obvious foul”?

How do you think his teammates would have reacted?  The other team’s players and fans?  Some would no doubt object to such a generous, selfless act because winning would me more important to them.

God’s grace is not going to fit your idea of “fair.”

  1. Setting the stage: context.

Much of chapter nineteen is about who goes to heaven.  The rich young man was concerned about what he had to do to get ETERNAL LIFE (v. 16).  Jesus’ response was tailored to this individual.  He told him to go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.  The man was prepared to do anything BUT that: HE WENT AWAY SAD (v. 22). Jesus reflected on how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (v. 23-24).

The disciples were stunned (v. 25); they assumed the rich were blessed by God & that’s why they were rich.  Peter wasn’t really listening.  He was thinking that if the rich young man could get into heaven by donating his wealth, he could too (v. 27).  After all, that’s just what he had done!

There are two keys to what Jesus taught.  One is in 19:26 where Jesus said, “WITH MAN THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE, BUT WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.”  The other is in 19:30 and 20:16 as “book ends.”  These verses identify the one main point of the parable: “THE LAST WILL BE FIRST, AND THE FIRST WILL BE LAST.”  This is Jesus’ teaching: no one earns eternal life; God gives it.  This point will be applied when James and John’s mother’s requests Jesus make her boys His left and right hand men (20:20-28).

  1. Reading the program notes: The one main point.

The emphasis in all of scripture is always on what God has done for us.  He chose us.  He sent His Son Jesus to die for us.  He forgives our sins.

The point of this parable is that salvation is God’s gift.  It is never about our deservedness.  We can never qualify ourselves.

  1. Watching the play: plot points.

It is essential that we identify God with the LANDOWNER.  He goes out and calls people to have ETERNAL LIFE.  Notice the workers do not seek Him out, nor do they apply for a job or show him a resume; all of this event is at the LANDOWNER’s initiative and depends on His resources.

In v. 2 we see the LANDOWNER and the WORKERS agreed to a specific wage: one DENARIUS.  This was the usual rate of pay for a day’s work.  This is a very typical scene in Jesus’ time; land owners kept costs down by hiring day laborers.  Jesus’ parables often start with an everyday circumstance, then got to something surprising and that is certainly how this parable unfolds.

Every three hours the LANDOWNER went to the marketplace to hire more workers (vs. 3-5). The later workers agree to work for WHATEVER IS RIGHT, not for a specific amount.  This will be an important detail later when the workers are paid.

Verses 6-7 give us the first clue about the generosity of the LANDOWNER.  He went out a fifth time that day to hire more laborers.  It is near the end of the day.  A more practical employer would not have bothered, as he would not get any more than a couple hours’ work out of t latecomers.  Moreover, day laborers were usually down and out people.  When the LANDOWNER asks why they’ve been standing around all day, their reply is only half of the truth; “NO ONE HAS HIRED US.”  Inquiring minds want to know why no one made them an offer!  They did not have a regular job for a reason.  The ones still hanging around the marketplace at that time of day were likely to be “the worst of the worst.”  The youngest and healthiest workers of the bunch would’ve been hired earlier in the day: the workers still hanging about the ELEVENTH HOUR were the “leftovers.”  Knowing all this about him makes the LANDOWNER seem even more generous.

The tale becomes more curious in verse eight, when the LANDOWNER pays off the workers beginning with those who were hired last.  This would make no sense if this had been an actual event.  Instead, it is a plot device that serves what Jesus taught in 19:30 and 20:16.  It makes sense only in that light.

The tension builds in verses nine and ten as the workers are paid.  Naturally, the men hired first thing in the morning are expecting extra payment as they see the LANDOWNER’s generosity toward those who were hired later in the day; the latecomers were paid a full day’s wage even though they didn’t work a full day.  That is undeniably generous.

Vs. 10-12 = The all-day laborers are naturally upset when they get exactly the same pay as the latecomers.  “YOU HAVE MADE THEM EQUAL TO US,” they complained.    “Foul!  Not fair!” they protest.

In verses 13-15 the LANDOWNER’s answer does not justify his actions to the bellyachers.  He simply affirms his right to do as he pleases.  He calls them FRIEND & reminds them they were hired to work all day for a denarius.  What’s fair is that all the workers agreed to work for a wage that was RIGHT. Legally, none of them have a right to bellyache.

The LANDOWNER rightly exposed the real motive of the complainers.  They were not trying to right a wrong or insist on what was fair, they were simply ENVIOUS.  The LANDOWNER was GENEROUS, not unfair.

God’s grace is not going to fit your idea of “fair.”

          Some people interpret this parable as a comparison of people who accept Jesus early in life and those who are saved late in life.  That’s a mistake because the center of the parable is the actions of the LANDOWNER, not the workers.  The main point is about the generosity of the employer.

God is the hero of this parable or it is just a strange little story that’s hard to figure out.  It’s really simple and rather obvious when we put our attention where it belongs; on the LANDOWNER.  Then we see that he was more interested in being generous than in meeting someone’s self-centered notions of what is fair.

This parable contradicts Peter’s very natural but wrong assumption that we can earn our way into heaven.  We like to think that we are somehow very deserving of the eternal life God offers.  We’d like to believe that all these good deeds, the hours of service, have somehow made us worthy.

That’s a worldly and self-serving point of view and something we must unlearn.  We are saved by grace, nothing else.  Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve (eternal life) and not giving us what we do deserve (eternal death). So whatever notions we have about fairness are likely to be self-serving, not real.

The application of the teaching gets at the motive that powers our work in church or in the community.  Any motive based on earning us something is not a God-centered motive.  We need to do what we do because we love God and His people.  Motives that begin with a love of self should always be suspect.  God has promised heavenly rewards for our good works, but it is still up to Him to decide what those works are and who truly deserves them.

In commenting on this passage, William Barclay wrote, “In the Christian church seniority does not necessarily mean honor.”  We’ve all heard church people – who ought to know better – recite their achievements and investments in the church as reasons for expecting to be heard and heeded.

The Bible does not support that kind of pride.  Either we do things out of love or, like Peter, we do them expecting to rewarded with power and influence.  It’s wrong to think experience or education qualifies us to lord over one another, earning us some kind of status in the church or in heaven.

In those moments we are very far from Jesus, who said His mission was service, not self-service.  In the very next chapter (Matthew 20:28) Jesus said, “THE SON OF MAN DID NOT COME TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”  When we go on about our “rights,” and what we “deserve,” we’re grieving the Holy Spirit and are guilty of hypocrisy.  It is better by far to copy the attitude of Jesus; His humility and self-sacrifice.  It is better by far to rely on His AMAZING GRACE than our puny works.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #32

“Our Unfair God,” Ministry magazine (pp. 14-16), Gary Moyer

The Story of God Bible Commentary: Matthew, Rodney Reeves

Advent Attitudes: Reverence

Advent 4

When we worship God we make Him known.

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 & Luke 2:8-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) for my research.)

Every year about this time we lament the “commercialization of Christmas” and silently pledge not to go to such extremes next year.  Somehow eleven months go by and here we are again.  it seems the only solution is to laugh at ourselves and stay out of the stores until February!  In that vein, I offer a couple of Christmas stories involving kids and gift-giving.

“Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents’ house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. The younger one began at the top of his lungs:

‘I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE…’
‘I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO…’”

“His older brother leaned over, nudged him and said, ‘Why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf,’ to which the little brother replied, ‘No, but Grandma is!’”

One father thought he’d found a new angle and told his daughters that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday and he only received three things.  So they were not be upset with what they found under the tree.

As it happened on Christmas morning, one little gal expressed her disappointment with her gifts, very nearly in tears.  When the father reminded her about Jesus only getting three things, she responded “How do you think Jesus felt when he got three things and none of them were toys?!”

(http://desperatepreacher.com/christmas/xmashumor.htm)

Now, at the end of Advent, we add the fourth and arguably the most necessary Advent Attitude: Reverence.  We must seek to regain a sense of the awe of the shepherds, the wonder of Mary, and reenact the worship of the Magi before we throw ourselves into gifting and feasting.  We must pray for God to recreate some of dazzling light of the star that will lead us to Jesus.

Reverence is quiet.  It is understated.  It requires a little solitude and some time for undistracted attention to the Spirit of God in us.  Hands need to be folded and kept still.  Hurried thoughts need to be gently brought back to an inner vision of the radiant baby, the Son of God.

  1. The Magi worshiped God with their giving (Matthew 2:1-12).

Their first gift was to seek Him because their journey was long in both mileage and time.  We have so little information on these visitors, all we can say with certainty is that there more than one (“magi” is the plural form of “magus”) and that they came FROM THE EAST.  Not knowing an exact point of origin it’s impossible to say when they started, but we have four clues about the timing of their arrival.

In v. 1, it plainly says AFTER JESUS WAS BORN. Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ birthday; all that comes from Luke.

In v. 7, King Herod directly asked the Magi THE EXACT TIME the star appeared to them.

Add to that v. 16 where King Herod had all the boys in Bethlehem TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER killed.  This was an attempt to slay the newborn king whom he thought must be no older than two years, based on the TIME the Magi told them.

In v. 11 the text says they came to a HOUSE, not a stable.  For whatever set of reasons, the family did not immediately return to Nazareth, but remained in Bethlehem for some time.

Their journey started with one fact (a new Jewish king was born) and an idea where he might be found (in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews).  That’s going to a lot of trouble on the basis of very little information.

Their journey had some danger.  In addition to the usual hazards of travel, there was the danger indicated in Herod’s lethal reaction to the Magi not reporting in to him as he’d commanded.

From the Magi we learn that worship is more about the giving than the gifts.  Their gifts have been thoroughly analyzed by Bible scholars, without much insight added.  People have tried to say that the various gifts are various symbols.  What makes the most sense to me is that they were the kind of expensive gifts one would present to a king to curry favor.  What’s more important is following their example by making sacrificial gifts, whatever we might see as “valuable.”

God’s purpose in these gifts is that they funded the family’s escape to Egypt.  They were small but sold for a hefty price.

  1. The angels worshiped God with their singing (Luke 2:8-20).

The song was the culmination of their message.  The message was: “The most wonderful thing has just happened.”

“I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY THAT WILL BE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. This is a major theme of Luke’s Gospel.

“TODAY IN THE TOWN OF DAVID A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU; HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.

“THIS WILL BE A SIGN TO YOU: YOU WILL FIND A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER.”

The song is an example of heaven-sanctioned worship.

“GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST.”  In other words, “May God be praised in heaven” and/or “to the highest degree.”  Pointing to God is one job humans and angels share; we give Him the glory. For example, in Luke 19:38, the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem shout, “PEACE IN HEAVEN AND GLORY IN THE HIGHEST.”

“ON EARTH PEACE TO MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.”  What we generally hear at Christmas is “on earth, peace, good will toward men.”  That line is based on a mistranslation in the KJV.  It should actually read as the NIV translates it.  The point: God bestows PEACE on whomever He chooses and He chooses His people.  Paul confirmed this teaching in RMS 5:1; THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, WE HAVE PEACE WITH GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

Worship is more about the singing than the song.  Of course I am NOT referring to any quality of musicianship.  Seven times the Psalms urge us to MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD.  Those verses put the focus on the worshiper’s heart, not his or her vocal chords.  I am referring to the attitude of the worshiper.  As usual, the inner parts are more important that the outer ones.

Because we are committed to your having a MERRY Christmas, I want to conclude with a couple humorous versions of the account of the visit of the Magi.

Three wise men walk into a barn…yes I said BARN…and see Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Joseph asks why they are disturbing them as his wife had just given birth and needed rest. The first wise man said “I have brought gold for the child.”
Joseph thanked him but asked them to leave. Then the second wise man said “I have brought frankincense for the child.”
Again Joseph thanked him but was getting annoyed as they were interrupting a special moment between him and his wife. He then, forcefully, asked them to leave.

The third wise man said “But wait there’s myrrh!”

It is true that most of what we think we know about the magi has come from tradition or legend, not from the Bible.  As we’ve seen, the Bible does not give us a number of Magi, but legend says there were three, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.  They are so named in the book Ben Hur.

I recently came across a legend of a fourth Magi named Jacques.  Jacques did not make the trip to Bethlehem but stayed behind in Persia.  He refused to go because he was caring for a baby dolphin.

When the other three came back, they were full of wondrous tales of the journey and praise for the newborn king of the Jews.  When they had at last told all, Balthasar sighed and leaned back and said, “Poor Jacques, you missed all these things to stay home and feed that baby dolphin.”

Jacques merely waved him off.  He said, “I like to think I have served a youthful porpoise.”

<https://upjoke.com/three-wise-men-jokes&gt;

Throughout this Advent season we have observed the attitudes of joy, expectation, obedience, and reverence.  May the days ahead bring all these experiences to you.  May they transcend all the distractions the world offers so you will know the fullness of joy and satisfaction that only God can provide.

When we worship God we make Him known.

With this in mind, let us make worship the central part of Christmas.  Let us make Jesus known in our homes, our community, and our world.