March 19, 2012 David Balzer

Matthew 25: Be Ready!

They’re wild animals. Never take your eyes off them for a second. They can smell fear. So don’t show them you’re scared. If you do, they’ll turn on you, and rip you, or each other, to shreds. Just for their own amusement.”

I’m talking, of course, about Year 10 school students.

It was the sort of advice my Science Coordinator gave me when I started teaching. I was green as they come. 20 years old. And straight out of Uni.

I made some mistakes in my first few years.

Like the time I gave to each of the ten groups in the class some red phosphorus to burn. We were studying chemical reactions – how phosphorus changes into phosphorus oxide when it’s burned. The only problem was phosphorus oxide is poisonous. It can bring on asthma attacks, or cause respiratory distress.

And within a few minutes the room was full of clouds of phosphorus oxide. And a few minutes after that, the courtyard outside was full of 30 coughing, spluttering students. And one, embarrassed Science teacher.

Another lesson I quickly learned was never to leave them alone in the classroom. ESPECIALLY if they were doing an experiment. I wasn’t SUPPOSED to leave the room, but sometimes I’d forget something from the staffroom. And I’d have to quickly duck out.

“Just keep doing your work” I’d say. “Keep doing exactly what you’re doing now.”

Now there’s a certain type of student who may not have been THINKING about doing anything wrong. But as soon as the teacher leaves the room a brilliant idea pops into his head.

“I wonder what would happen if I … turn the gas tap on and set it alight. Or … throw that sticky mess on the back window sill at the group of girls. Or …. add five times as much sodium bicarbonate as I’m supposed to. Or … run laps around the classroom like an Olympic torch runner holding aloft a white-hot strip of burning magnesium.”

I know all of this because I’d come back UNEXPECTEDLY from the staffroom. Or I’d stick my head into the window on my way there.

If the students had known when to expect me, I’d probably never know anything had happened. ANYTHING could have happened when I was out of the room. But if they knew I’d be gone for exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds, they’d have a stopwatch on me just like a scene from Mission Impossible.

“Quick, you’ve got 1 minute 45 left. Put that fire out. Roll that girl with the burning hair in the fire blanket. One minute left. Wipe the chemical explosion off the ceiling. 15 seconds left. Take that small boy out of the fume cupboard”

There were times I’d walk back into the classroom. And I’d just KNOW something had happened. A few giggles. An unnerving silence. Some plumes of smoke still rising from a girl’s hair. And I’d have no way of knowing FOR SURE who’d-been-mucking-up, and who’d been doing what they were SUPPOSED TO.

The only way to tell was walking back into the classroom when the kids WEREN’T expecting me.

For the GOOD kids it didn’t matter WHEN I came back. They didn’t need to keep an eye on the clock. To try and guess when I’d be back. Because they just went on with their work.

But for the NAUGHTY kids coming back unexpectedly often caught them red-handed.

It would be a dead giveaway if I was asked on the way out “Where are you going, Sir? Will you be long?” That would be enough to set the warning bells off!

“Don’t worry about when I’ll be back. Just keep doing the right thing while I’m gone. That’s what’ll REALLY make me happy. And then you won’t have to worry about when I’ll be back!”

And that’s the same message that Jesus gives his disciples in this part of Matthew.

“Don’t worry about when I’ll be back. Just keep doing the right thing while I’m gone. That’s what’ll REALLY make me happy. And then you won’t have to worry about when I’ll be back!”

And Jesus’ message to his disciples is a message to US. Spend your time doing what makes Jesus happy. And in these verses that means looking after each other. Loving each other.

2. Waiting for his return (25:1-30)

Back in Ch 24 Jesus has LOTS of things to say about waiting for his coming. But the basic idea is “Don’t worry about WHEN. I don’t even know when. Just make sure you’re READY when I DO come back. Make sure you’re DOING the right thing when it happens.”

Let me suggest that he’s correcting 2 mistakes that people have about Jesus’ return. Even today.

1. One group of people are obsessed about finding out WHEN. A bit like Jesus’ disciples.

(Mat 24:3 NIV)  “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

And many people today spend their time trying to match up obscure prophecies from Daniel or Revelation with present-day events. Trying to find out when Jesus will come back.

But Jesus says they’re wasting their time. Look at Ch 24 v 36-39. It’s going to come as a surprise to EVERYONE. And that includes Jesus!

(Mat 24:36-39 NIV)  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. {37} As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. {38} For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; {39} and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

It’s pointless trying to find out when because you CAN’T find it out.

Apart from anything else, even if you COULD, it’d be no advantage to you. Because when it happens, everyone will KNOW ABOUT IT. Back at v 26 of Ch 24.

(Mat 24:26-27 NIV)  “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. {27} For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

In other words there’ll be NO DOUBT what’s happening. Noone’s going to have an advantage because they know before anyone else. There’s no insider trading when it comes to Jesus’ return. So don’t bother trying.

That’s one mistake people make. (Searching for when)

But does that mean we’re to do NOTHING? (Just sit back and put our feet up?) Not at all!

The second mistake people make about Jesus’ return is that they DO NOTHING. That’s the point of the first two parables Jesus tells in Ch 25.

The first story is about 10 bridesmaids. They’re waiting at the bride’s house. And the groom’s coming to take everyone back to his place for the feast.

He must live a fair distance away because no one’s exactly sure when he’ll arrive.

Five of the bridesmaids planned ahead and didn’t just bring their lamps, but they brought extra oil as well. Just in case.

The other five did okay. They were keen. They were waiting for the groom. Even at night. And they brought their lamps. They should get marks for trying. But they didn’t bring any spare oil.

But it’s late, and everyone falls asleep. Even the wise bridesmaids (v5).

And when the groom finally arrives, only the smart ones are ready. They wake up, trim their lamps, so they start burning brightly, and they’re READY.

But the foolish ones trim their lamps, and they go out. Because they’ve run out of oil. SO they rush off to 7-11 to buy some more.

And when they finally get to the wedding banquet, look at what sort of reception they get (Get it – reception?). Verse 10. It’s too late.

(Mat 25:10-12 NIV)  “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. {11} “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ {12} “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

They missed their chance because they weren’t ready.

And when it comes to Jesus coming back we need to learn the lesson from the bridesmaids. Make sure you’re ready. Look at how Jesus sums up. Verse 13.

(Mat 25:13 NIV)  “Therefore KEEP WATCH, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Are YOU ready?

Let me emphasise two points about the five foolish bridesmaids.

One: wanted to please the bridegroom. These weren’t people who were disinterested. They had a desire to be in the right place. But they missed out. Just WANTING it wasn’t enough.

They represent people who want to go to heaven. Who WANT to be on the right side of God. But Jesus says that’s not enough. It’s not enough just to WANT to be in God’s good books.

Second: Their mistake was NOT doing something. It wasn’t that they did WRONG THINGS. It was that they FAILED to do RIGHT THINGS.

We tend to think that it’s the BAD things people do that cause them to miss out on heaven. But the point of the story here is that people can miss out by FAILING to do GOOD THINGS. And that’s a fair bit scarier.

 

Are YOU ready? What are you DOING?

Well, Jesus tells a second story. And the point is similar. This one’s about a man who goes on a journey. He hands out money to three of his servants. To one he gives five measures. Another two. And the last one gets one measure.

And then the master goes away.

The guy with five measures DOES SOMETHING. He puts it to work – maybe loaning it out. Or buying and selling. And he does well. He doubles his money.

 

The same with the second guy. He doubles his money too.

But the last guy just buries the money in his backyard. He DOES NOTHING. He doesn’t do anything WRONG. He just DOESN’T do anything RIGHT.

Eventually the master returns. And he calls the three servants. The two guys who double his money are commended. Look at v21.

(Mat 25:21 NIV)  ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

 

But the guy who does nothing cops it. He gets called wicked and lazy. And look at his punishment. Verse 28.

(Mat 25:30 NIV)  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

That’s a description of hell. And the point is obvious. When Jesus comes back, make sure you’re ready.

And notice the same two things we noticed before. This guy WANTED to serve his master. He wanted to be in his good books.

And also, there’s punishment for FAILING to do something GOOD. Just like the 5 foolish bridegrooms.

Remember that Jesus is talking to his disciples. About how they should be living. It’s for people who WANT to serve God, and do the right thing by him.

And I think that’s the way we have to take the third section. The sheep and the goats are people who attend church. Who try to do good things. Who THINK they’re doing alright. The goats are SURPRISED when they find out they’re goats. They thought they were SHEEP.

And Jesus’ message to THEM. AND to US. Is “Be careful. Make sure you’re ready!” Don’t be like the five bridgrooms. Or the lazy servant. Or THIS is what will happen to you.

 

3. When he returns (25:31-46)

He’s described HOW to live while we’re waiting for his return. Now the emphasis is on what will happen WHEN HE RETURNS.

 

It’s judgement time. And Jesus is the one making the decisions. Look at v31.

(Mat 25:31-33 NIV)  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. {32} All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. {33} He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

 

Jesus will sit on his judging throne. And EVERYONE will be called into the courtroom. ALL THE NATIONS.

 

And he’ll put them into one of two groups. No areas of grey. No hybrids. No maybes. No non-parole periods, or good behaviour bonds.

 

Just black or white. Sheep or goats. In or out.

 

And the basis for deciding will be whether they DID something, or DIDN’T do something. Look at v34. He’s talking to the sheep.

(Mat 25:34-36 NIV)  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. {35} For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, {36} I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 

All sorts of good deeds. Giving food and drink. Clothing. Visiting. And their reward is an eternal inheritance.

 

But it’s the opposite for the goats. Verse 41.

(Mat 25:41-43 NIV)  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. {42} For I was hungry and you gave me NOTHING to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me NOTHING to drink, {43} I was a stranger and you did NOT invite me in, I needed clothes and you did NOT clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did NOT look after me.’

 

Exactly the same things. But this time they DIDN’T do them. And their lot is eternal punishment. And their only company will be the devil and his angels.

 

Each of the three stories finishes the same way.

 

The five foolish bridesmaids are SHUT OUTSIDE by a groom who doesn’t know them. The lazy servant is THROWN OUTSIDE where it’s dark, and where there’s weeping, and gnashing of teeth.

 

And here, the goats are cursed, and are thrown into the eternal punishment of fire.

 

Let me answer two questions about this description. One’s a smaller one, and the other’s a biggy. I’ll start with “the biggy”.

 

Saved by works?

This description by Jesus seems to be teaching that we’ll be saved because of the things we’ve DONE. By our good works. Is that right?

 

It’s the way MOST people think the final judgement will happen. Jesus will have a big set of scales. He’ll put all of your GOOD deeds on one side. All of your BAD deeds on the other. And if you’re lucky, there’ll be more good deeds, and you’ll make it in.

 

But the REST of the Bible makes it perfectly clear that NO ONE has enough good deeds to make it. Because it’s PERFECTION that God requires. A 100% pass mark, not just 50%.

 

It’s only when we trust that Jesus has done the work FOR US that God lets us in. He counts Jesus’ death as just punishment for our sin. And he lets us in BY HIS GRACE. Not our own merits.

 

And if you look closely, there’s even hints of that here.

 

First, look at the reward Jesus gives the sheep. Verse 34.

(Mat 25:34 NIV)  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your INHERITANCE, the kingdom PREPARED FOR YOU SINCE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.

 

God’s got an inheritance prepared for his children. What do children have to do to get an inheritance? Nothing! It’s a gift.

 

Secondly, is it a gift that was given on the basis of how good you are? Favourite child gets the most and so on? No! IT WAS PREPARED BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD!

 

God decided you would get it BEFORE YOU EVEN HAD THE CHANCE TO DO GOOD THINGS.

 

How amazing is that?!

 

So what IS the place of these good deeds?

 

It’s a bit like evidence that’s presented at ANY trial.

 

Let’s say Gordon is accused of fraud. He’s ripped $50,000 off the church. The prosecution might present evidence of how Gordon had volunteered for the Treasurer’s job at the annual meeting. And how $50 000 had been added to his bank account over the next three months. How he’d bought first class plane tickets to America, and a new car.

 

All of this would be EVIDENCE of the crime he had committed. He wouldn’t be found guilty of fraud because he’d become treasurer, or had money added to his account, or gone on a trip. These facts are used to prove the fact that he was guilty of fraud.

 

In the same way, a Christian’s good deeds are used as EVIDENCE that he’s one of God’s children. They’re the sorts of things that God’s children DO. And Jesus will use them to determine whether someone has REAL faith or not. Someone with real faith WALKS the talk, not just talks the talk.

 

Their actions flow from their faith.

 

Do you have real faith? Are you walking? Or just talking?

 

What about the second question? The small one?

 

WHO are we to serve? Who are we to feed and clothe and nurse? Everyone, or just Christians?

 

Galatians 6:10 says

(Gal 6:9-10 NIV)  Let us not become weary in DOING GOOD, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. {10} Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good TO ALL PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY to those who belong to the family of believers.

 

We’ve got a responsibility to do good to everyone. But ESPECIALLY to those in the church.

 

But what about this parable? Does Jesus have someone different in mind? Look at v40.

(Mat 25:40 NIV)  “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for ONE OF THE LEAST OF THESE BROTHERS OF MINE, you did for me.’

 

One of the least of these BROTHERS of mine. Who are the brothers of King Jesus?

 

In Matthew 12:49-50 Jesus says

“whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

He’s talking about HIS FOLLOWERS.

 

And in Matt 28:10, after his resurrection, he’s talking to the women at the tomb.

(Mat 28:10 NIV)  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell MY BROTHERS to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

At the very least he’s talking about the twelve disciples.

 

So let me suggest that in this story of the sheep and the goats, people will be judged according to how they treat Christians – followers of Jesus.

 

Which makes sense because Jesus says they’re feeding and drinking and serving HIM  when they help HIS FOLLOWERS. Jesus is connected to his FOLLOWERS.

 

In fact, a little earlier in Matt 24 Jesus is describing to THE DISCIPLES the sort of behaviour they can expect from the rest of the world. Verse 9.

(Matt 24:9-13 NIV)  “”Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. …. {12} Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, {13} but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

 

So I think there’s a reasonable case for saying that in THIS STORY Jesus is saying that people will be judged by how well they look after Christians. In particular the LEAST of the Christians.

 

How well do you look after the LEAST? The LITTLE people? Not leprachauns. But the INSIGNIFICANT people. The unpopular ones. The ones you struggle to talk to. Or the ones who talk too much.

 

The smelly ones. Or the mentally ill ones. Or even children, or old people. The ones who can’t return your favours.

 

And our first port of call is RIGHT HERE. Within our own church family. Galatians 6:10 says that AS YOU HAVE OPPORTUNITY do good to everyone. And your greatest opportunity is to EACH OTHER.

 

And two days after this speech, Jesus said these words. Not only would HE notice our good deeds. But OUTSIDERS TOO. John 13: 34-35.

(John 13:34-35 NIV)  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. {35} By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

When we love like Jesus loved – sacrificially, with a servant-heart. Bearing each others’ burdens. The world will notice. JESUS will notice.

 

When Jesus comes back, how will he know if we’re ready? If we’re expecting him?

 

Because we’ll be looking after his brothers. Even the LEAST of his brothers.

 

That’s how we make sure we’re ready. Will you be ready?

 

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