Monday, November 5, 2012

The Teachings of Jesus (VI), Week 45: Jesus' authority challenged - Judgment Day (25:31-46)

Today, we enter our last passage of Scripture in this nearly year-long series. And although I am actually writing this months before it will publish, I am already bittersweet. For I have learned a lot through this study; but more on that next week.

This week, we come to the final passage, in which Jesus talks about Judgment Day. Now you can see this in one of two ways: either it is actually a part of last week's parable (the concluding statement), or it is a separate prophesy that the parable of lsat week built up to. I am not sure which it is, so I separated it out; either reading would be, practically speaking, the same I think.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with Him, hten He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on the right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'

And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

(Matt 25:31-46)

The primary point of this entire chapter is clearly, as David Guzik's commentary states, about the dangers of indifference. The foolish virgins were indifferent to the return of the Lord, and thus did not get the oil (Spirit) that they needed. The lazy servant was indifferent to the return of the Lord, and thus did not do anything with what He had been given by God. And here, the wicked are indifferent to the people around them whom they could have helped.

Those judged as "good" here are not actually necessarily more righteous outwardly, but inwardly: because when it came to a type of service that they cannot get rewarded for (helping the needy, with none around to see it), they helped. This is a great benchmark of how "real" your faith is, and it ties all the way back to the beginning of this year, when Jesus talked in the Sermon on the Mount of doing things in secret: are you doing good works so that you will look good on the outside, or because you have a heart of love on the inside?

The faithful person does acts of service not because they are obliged or because they are being watched, but because they love those around them. If you love God and you love your neighbor, then you will want to help the poor and the needy. You will want to make someone's life better in some tangible way.

Are you the kind of person who cares about others and wants to help them? Wants to make their lives better, at your own expense? Is someone else's life more important than your vacation? Is the homeless man on the side of the road more important than the five dollars in your wallet?

We may not have done much right as parents, but one thing we have done well is plant a seed of generosity in our kids. You cannot drive past a beggar on the roads without my sons wanting to give them something. I have seen them sacrifice everything that they have saved up to buy mosquito nets for kids in Africa. I have seen them make big donation piles of really good toys, favorite toys, to give to kids who do not have any. They love it. One of their favorite parts of Christmas in our home (which will be taking place this month), is the cleaning out of closets. Before we do any Christmas shopping, we think about what good, fun things we can give to kids who do not have any. They love this concept (more than their parents, actually!--sometimes we struggle to honor their gift instead of keeping it and putting it in the attic for sentimental reasons!). I hope and pray that this stays with them as they age.


  1. Passages like this are always a big source of struggle for me. On the one hand, I affirm that it's Jesus and his imparted righteousness, not my own, that saves: but then I read passages like this and wonder, "Am I really doing enough to make God happy?" Even though I should know that because of Jesus, God is ALREADY happy with me! I should know that my own efforts can't save me! I start thinking, "What if I'm wrong about all of that?"

    I live in a small town in northern Japan. I often help with my church's volunteer efforts on the coast on weekends, and that sort of thing. But homeless people? What homeless people? I don't know any homeless or starving or orphaned people like in this story, least of all in my town. I'm always happy to serve at church and our volunteer efforts. I always try to be kind and loving toward the students I teach. But I still worry I'm not doing enough!

    This is the biggest area of struggle for me. How can I read passages like this and not conclude that God's approval of me is contingent on my good works?

    In one passage, Jesus heals the ten lepers even though he knows that only one will come back to thank him. That's extravagant grace at its finest! That sort of thing encourages me. But then I read passages like this that scare me half to death because I don't feel like I'm doing X, Y, and Z. I don't know which scares me more: the fear that I'm not doing enough and that a combination of this and mis-understanding the Gospel means I'm headed straight for hell, or the fear that the main reason I suddenly feel inclined to care for these sorts of people in the first place is because I'm afraid of God.

    The only thing I'm certain of is my own sinfulness, and my need for a savior. What I constantly struggle with is the fear that I've misunderstood the Bible, and salvation isn't as simple as I wish it was.

  2. Kyle, I think what you struggle with is one of the hardest things to understand in our spiritual life. We have a tendency to ask EXACTLY the question you are asking..."What if I'm wrong about all of that?" What if it actually IS our actions which bring us salvation?

    Doubts are nothing to be afraid of in our faith. Indeed, doubts are the doorway to deeper faith, and I think it is really admirable that you are so honest with yourself, as that is the path to going for the future. We see quite a bit in Scripture people asking varieties of the question, "I me in my unbelief."

    When I have struggled with this same concept, I have asked myself this question, very simply: what kind of people are those whom Jesus promised the kingdom of heaven, and what kind of people are those with whom Jesus argued and fought? Jesus was the friend of sinners and the enemy of the religious leadership--He fought consistently against those who wished to clean the cup on the outside but not the inside.

    So it is not our actions which get us there, certainly - but the outpouring of a spiritual life is EXACTLY what you have within you: a burning desire to be better, to do more. You know that it is not your actions which get you to heaven, yet you greatly fear disappointing God. This is the "fear of the Lord" which the Bible desires us to have. But never forget that your growth closer to Him, your sanctification, comes FROM God, not from you.

    In 2 Peter 1:3-11, when Peter talks about working to ensure your calling is "secure", he is talking about precisely what you are struggling with: you are already saved, and your works which later follow are an act of sanctification, making you more like Jesus. They are not conditional requirements for salvation. Indeed, as Peter says in verse 3, God has already given you all the qualities you just may take some time before He makes you into the "final product." :) So it is not an "IF-THEN" situation, where IF you do something your calling will be secure; it is a "BECAUSE-THERFORE" situation...because you were saved, therefore God will create in you the right spiritual activities.

    Kyle I think you would REALLY get a lot out of the next series which will be starting in a few weeks. I go step by step through the Didache, the first-century "Christian handbook" which was written to tell new Christians how to live. For me, reading this puts me a bit more at ease on the works/faith side of things. It does a really nice job of clarifying that yes there are things we as Christians are expected to do, but it is not the overwhelming weight of the Law, and it is mostly about the heart rather than anything else.

    Hopefully it will help you as much as it did me!

  3. Thanks, this was encouraging. I started feeling better about all of this once I realized that the people Jesus is talking to are people who think they are ALREADY good, who think they already have it all together... it's the people who know that they're sinners (like me) who cry out to God for salvation in the first place! I suppose it would be worse if I WASN'T asking these types of questions.

    And yes, I know that our faith is "because you are saved, therefore..." This was a big breakthrough for me over the past year or so of learning, but sometimes I still struggle with this. I am not familiar with the Didache, so I'll look forward to that series!