Sunday, August 14, 2022

Names of God: Jehovah-rophe, God our Healer in the Bitter Waters of the Wilderness

"Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. 23 When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).

24 Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. 25 So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink.

It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

27 After leaving Marah, the Israelites traveled on to the oasis of Elim, where they found twelve springs and seventy palm trees. They camped there beside the water." -Exodus 15:22-27

A people had been shackled for so long, broken under the whip, they must’ve lost so much hope, figured nothing could change, that happens in life, when we get stuck, for years even, more, we start to lose hope and start to think I’m never getting out of here. I’m never getting better. I’m never getting over this. We lose hope and it seems impossible. Time has a way of doing that doesn’t it? Waking up.. having coffee, going through the day, trying to survive life, sitting alone at home, watching tv, not liking ourselves in our own skin. Things we wish were different but they won’t change. How much more so for Israel, in abject slavery for so long.

How could they believe that things would ever change? But then something happened so fast. Something that seemed so completely impossible, and then it just suddenly happens.

How much can we all relate to that? When God saved us, and changed us, how long had we waited, how long had we given up hope? For me it was years.

It feels like nothing will change. Then it suddenly does. And you can hardly believe it.

What did the Israelites think, as they walked on the bottom of red sea, on the dirt at the bottom of the sea, with walls of water on both sides. Did they look with awe and think, this isn’t happening, this can’t be happening, we’ve been slaves so long. How can this be? And yet its happening.

Israel had seen all the miracles of God, they saw the plagues fall on Egypt, and Passover them, they were kept safe, and yet, as they headed into the wilderness, into the desert, millions of people together in the desert, they traveled three days and three nights, not finding any water.

Think about that though, the human body can only survive three days without. I’m sure they probably had some water along with them, but not enough for so many millions to survive on.

But that would be scary, imagine not having water for 3 days, we can’t imagine not having water for one day. And our scripture today says God did that specifically to test them.

Then they find an oasis in the desert. And I’m sure they’re all so relieved at that moment, they see the palm trees, the grass, the waters, and think oh praise the Lord we found water.

Often times, this is the moment God will test us. I want you to see this in your own life. This is the moment we all face from time to time.

It looks like something good is about to happen. We can see it. We approach it. And suddenly it’s pulled away from us. It’s gone again.

Even the FBI and law enforcement understand this concept. With one journalist, who had gained access to classified information, and refused to give up the source, they arrested her, and put her in jail. Very scary experience. Shes in tears in her bed in jail afraid, of the inmates, counting the days, and she’s in there for several months. And finally she gets word, shes going to be released.

She is so relieved, so happy, shes won, they’ve relented, she gets her stuff together, gets out the doors, goes home to celebrate with family, as soon as she gets home, the police arrive, and re-arrest her. And she’s back in. They would do that strategically to weigh on the emotional faculties of the individual, with the goal of recovering the confidential information.

Something similar you could say is happening here. They arrive at marah. And they gather around the pool. And they realize, the waters are bitter, they are poisonous, no one can drink the waters. They are in big trouble.

The people go crazy and complain to Moses, what are we going to do? We’re going to die in the desert. We laugh at the Israelites thinking why don’t they trust God? But how often do we do the same thing? Where is our faith when life is hard?

It even says the people began to turn against Moses, like outright rebellion. What is your response when you thought you had finally found hope and it’s taken away again? We go through that don’t we. We have to try and respond better than the people who rebelled against Moses. Can we respond with faith when everything is taken away and we’re left back at square one?

Then we see that Moses calls out to God. And God answers. God shows Moses a tree, a branch, wood, and he tosses it into the water, and the bitter waters became pure. God was testing them. How would they respond? They responded with rebellion.

Then it says in verse 25-27: "It was there at Marah that the LORD set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the LORD who heals you.”

27 After leaving Marah, the Israelites traveled on to the oasis of Elim, where they found twelve springs and seventy palm trees. They camped there beside the water."

Despite marah being bitter, just near by the was the oasis of Elim with twelve springs, one spring for every tribe of Israel. Amazing.

But this is where we find our name of God for today, God said I am the Lord who heals you, Jehovah-rophe.

The bitter water of marah really to us represents how we are marred in sin. We are marah, marred in sin, bitter in sin, dirty, undrinkable, filthy, covered in sin.

And just as Moses tossed the tree into the waters, we must come to a tree to be saved, the tree of the cross of Jesus Christ. Then there Jesus heals us and makes us new, as pure as the waters of marah that were purified by God through Moses.

The Lord says I am the Lord who heals you. Jehovah rophe. Only God can heal us. Only God can turn our bitter waters pure. Who else could do such a thing? There was no solution before to our problem. Only God could solve it.

The people continue to rebel against Moses in their journey through the wilderness, and many were bitten by snakes and became sick from the poison. But God made a way for them to be healed, he had Moses craft a bronze snake, and lift it up on a pole, and the people would look upon it and be healed. And Jesus compared these events to himself, when he spoke to Nicodemus and he said, just as Moses lifted up that bronze pole in the desert so also the son of man must be lifted up, on the cross, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15).

He is the healer in the Old Testament. And Jesus became our healer in the New testament. Jesus traveled near and far healing people who were lepers, healing people with deformities, healing people who couldn’t walk, who couldn’t see, and healing broken hearts, driving out demons, and speaking the truth. God is our healer.

Yet God also tests us, just like Israel at the waters of Marah. He purifies us like gold, removing the impurities. And these tests show what’s really in our hearts. And show the work that God is doing and the progress being made as he conforms us to the likeness of Jesus. But it all starts of God. Of us recognizing we can’t fix the problem ourselves, but must turn to God our healer to make us well.

That is your challenge today. To Turn to Him for your help, and not rely on self to cleanse those filthy waters of your heart. Only God can do that. So invite him to. Admit your sinfulness, and receive Christ’s healing. He will also heal more than just your sins though. He will heal your physical health problems. He will heal your broken heart, your depression, your anxiety, your troubled emotions. Reach out to Him for healing. Also recognize he doesn’t always heal us right away. He often tests us. And allows us go through struggles to build our faith in Him. So if you’re in the wilderness, continue to trust God your healer, who is with you in the difficulties as well. Amen.

The Parable of the Talents: Well Done Good and Faithful Servant!

"Time is the inexplicable raw material of everything. With it, all is possible; without it, nothing. The supply of time is truly a daily miracle, an affair genuinely astonishing when one examines it. You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions... No one can take it from you. It is not something that can be stolen. And no one receives either more or less than you receive. Moreover, you cannot draw on its future. Impossible to get into debt! You can only waste the passing moment. You cannot waste tomorrow; it is kept for you. You cannot waste the next hour; it is kept for you.

You have to live on this twenty-four hours of daily time. Out of it you have to spin health, pleasure, money, content, respect, and the evolution of your immortal soul. Its right use, its most effective use, is a matter of the highest urgency and of the most thrilling actuality. All depends on that. Your happiness -- the elusive prize that you are all clutching for, my friends -- depends on that.

If one cannot arrange that an income of twenty-four hours a day shall exactly cover all proper items of expenditure, one does muddle one's whole life indefinitely. We shall never have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is."
-Arnold Bennett, Bits & Pieces, March 4, 1993, p. 18-20.

Our Parable today occurs in the book of Matthew in the 25th chapter, just before our parable from last week, the parable of the sheep and the goats. In the chapter 25 as we talked about last week, we’re looking at parables in regard to the final judgment. This parable is no different. We’re being taught by Jesus here, how we should be prepared for his second coming.

At the beginning of the chapter, we see the parable of the ten virgins. Five are wise, and five are unwise, the wise are ready for Christ’s return, the unwise are not. In the parable of the sheep and goats, the sheep have served Jesus faithfully on the Earth by meeting the practical needs of those around them, the goats have not.

And in our parable today, we see servants of a master, some who are wise, and one who is not.

And the question we should each be asking ourselves is, as I make decisions in my life, and exercise my free will, which path am I choosing? Am I choosing the wise path or the dead end path? It all comes down to how we decide to respond to Christ and what he commands us to do and be.

Let’s take a look at our parable, from Matthew chapter 25, verses 14-30. As a side note, this parable also occurs in Luke 19:11–27, in a slightly different form.

The scripture says this: “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.”

Pause there. I’m reading from the NLT. The NIV renders it as “bags of gold” while the NASB renders it “talents.” I understand why the NIV and NLT are rendering it that way, but I want to consider the word talent. What is a talent? A “talent” or talentan in the Greek, was a unit of measurement for about 80 lbs, and in particular a talent was referencing a weight of 80 lbs of silver. That may be why the NIV renders it silver. But as a unit of currency, it would be referencing an amount of 6,000 denarii. To understand that value, one denarii in the ancient world was equal to one day’s wages. A single talent then, is actually valued at about 20 years of labor. So, say you made 30,000 a year, the amount of 1 talent would be $600,000.

So, it’s apparent what God gives us, is of extreme value. What does he give us? We’ll get there in a minute. But consider the amounts he’s giving, to the first servant, he gave 5 bags of silver, five talents, so if we’re going off our base scale here, 30,000 a year, about 2.5 million dollars.

I also want you to notice that it says he divided in it proportion to their abilities. Very important.

Then it says, “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money."

So the three servants make their various choices with the money they’ve been entrusted with, the first earned five more, the second two more, and the third hid the money. 

It continues, “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’

21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!
22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

The master was gone a long time, and in the parable of the talents in Luke, it’s similar, in fact the parable is explained as being told, because they were near Jerusalem, and many of them were expecting Jesus to immediately take power and overthrow the romans and claim his seat as king of the nation. And Jesus tells them the parable to explain how it’s actually going to work.

The master is gone a long time. Then, he finally returns, the moment we’re all waiting for. This is the moment I’m building my life for. I hope you are too. The moment when either you die of old age, or Jesus returns, whichever comes first, and we stand before God to explain our lives.

For the first two servants, this day is everything they could’ve hoped for. They received the money they were given, and made use of it in the world, and brought a return to their master.

They are returning double, they were given 2 talents, they returned 4 talents, they were given 5, they return 10.

It’s interesting though in Mark 4:20 in the parable of the soil, it says, "And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!””

Our harvest can be very plentiful indeed!

How does the master respond to the servants who have completed their mission? He says to them “well done good and faithful servant.” We as Christians sometimes we teach only one of those two qualifiers when we share the gospel. We say OK, you need to make sure you’re a faithful servant of Christ. Put your faith in God. Just have faith. We leave out the “good” part, and forget to call people to pure holy living. Other only teach the good part. Just focus on being good, check off the boxes, faith isn’t as important, do good works, be good, and you’ll be fine, we leave out faithful.

But Jesus says well done good and faithful servant. We protestants like to leave out the “good” part, well just believe in Jesus. No, believe in Jesus while perfecting holiness in reverence for God. Good and faithful servant.

The master continues and says, because you’ve been trustworthy in a little, I’ll put you in charge over much.

In fact in this parable in Luke, it says in verse 17, “17 “‘Well done!’ the king exclaimed. ‘You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.’ And for the second servant he says, you will be governor over five cities. That is a massive reward. From working with money and investing it, to being in charge of entire kingdoms. That is a huge gift.

It's a great reminder that Christ is watching to see how we’re trustworthy with the little we have in this life.

Alright we’re done, right? Everyone goes to heaven right? Everyone does the right thing. Many preachers today like to edit out the difficult parts of the scriptures, and they create an idol out of God when they do that. It’s disgusting, to twist the scripture to change God’s character to fit what we would prefer. What a shame that is, to twist God’s character to suit our wants and desires. That should offend you. It offends me. It offends God more so, and I would not want to be that preacher on judgment day, trying to explain to God why he twisted his character and only preached the feel good verses.

No, the parable doesn’t end there. There’s a third servant, let’s see what happens next.

“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

The servant actually insults his master, calling him harsh, and basically insinuating that he didn’t do any of the work himself so why should he get the harvest kind of thing. Nasty, rude response. So he didn’t do anything with the money, he hid it underground and gave it back later.

26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
-Matthew 25:26–30

I think we get a clue to what Jesus is talking about in verse 29 he says to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance.

I think there is a temptation to take what Jesus has given us, our time, our talents, our abilities, our wealth, and to hide it away. We’re afraid we wont do a good job, that we’ll play off key, that we won’t do it right, that we’ll fail, so we just don’t do anything at all with it. We’re afraid to, of God, and of how he’ll view our work. So we just hide it away and don’t use it.

And for that servant they are called wicked and lazy. The opposite of good and faithful. Instead of good, wicked. Instead of faithful, lazy. Good to know the opposite so we can avoid it.

There will be accountability for those who fail to serve Christ in this life. If we reject his calls to service, if we don’t use the gifts he’s given us, we’ll be held accountable.

And if we do use those gifts and talents for His glory, we will be rewarded. It even says, that the master says, let’s celebrate, he’s so happy, he throws a party for them, because they did well, he says let’s celebrate.

Time to celebrate. Time for perfect existence. Time for a garden perpetual. A garden unending. A peace that never ends. Time to wander the streets of gold, the valleys of golden wheat, the blue mountains, the endless houses, and parties and get togethers and worship times, the moments so balmy they seem like euphoric dreams. The joy and contentment so sweet, sweeter than any dessert, magic nights in the city of God, talking on porches, running and playing with animals, flying through the sky to view the beauty, seeing the infinite God taller than a skyscraper, parts of him moving in and out and shifting and spinning wheels and creatures and angels crying out, and a rainbow, and a sea of glass shifting in the air, glowing stones, lightning and thunder, clouds, and glory, everyday, perfect life, perfect joy, no more controversy, no more rebellion, no more sin.

Well done good and faithful servant. You don’t need me to tell you about talents you know what yours are, use them build for that future which is more real than this life, more real than anything in this world, is that future. Make sure you spend your eternity there build now for there. Amen.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Names of God: Jehovah-jireh, The God who Provides

Your worst nightmare.. what is it? The worst possible thing that could happen to you? What would it be like? Worst case scenario… it’s a scary thought. For Abraham, his worst case scenario had come, when he thought he was going to lose his only son, Isaac. As he walked up the hill of Moriah, every step must’ve felt like a thousand pounds of weight. Yet he kept marching, trusting in God even then.

Because he knew his god was and is, Jehovah-jireh, the God who provides.

“The historic incident out of which the name Jehovah-jireh rises is one of the most moving and significant in the word of God. The historic account is found in Genesis 22. It is the account of the last and greatest crisis in the life of Abraham. Every event in his life has led up to this supreme hour from the time of his call to a high destiny, through every vicissitude, through every joy, through every trial or failure, through every measure of success and blessing, through every hope and promise and assurance. All had been in preparation for this event. The great promise had been fulfilled, the supreme hope of his life realized.” -Nathan Stone, Names of God

When we have a problem in our lives, a financial problem, a relationship problem, a property problem, car problem, what’s the first thing we do? We get to work trying to fix the problem. Or if you’re female, you talk about it with friends, reflect, and later, maybe, try to fix the problem, right?

I’m kidding. In any case, our first reaction is to try to solve problems when we get them. Often times we’re able to solve a problem. Whether it’s a broken car, we take it to someone to get repaired, if we’re sick we see a doctor, if there’s an error on our taxes, we fix it, and on life goes.

But what about when we can’t fix the problem? A loved one dies. You can’t fix that problem. You lose your job, and you can’t seem to find a new one. You find out you can’t have children anymore. Then what do we do?

For Abraham, in the book of Genesis, he had ran into a problem he couldn’t solve. His wife Sarah was barren, she couldn’t have children. He had no son to carry on his line. So what he did, was he turned to God for help. And God did help him. But it took years of faithfully waiting on God, for it to finally happen. Mistakes were made on the way. But in the end, God caused Sarah to become pregnant, and Sarah gave birth to Isaac.

Abraham loved Isaac so much, his favorite son. They were so very close. They did everything together. Isaac was special, blessed, loved by Abraham and God. Abraham had gone from waiting in faith, to finally after so many years, walking in the blessing. He had received what he had asked for. He was sitting on the sunny beach, sipping a cold drink, breathing the fresh air.

For me, I worked for years to become an officer, a pastor in The Salvation Army, it was my dream for many years. Back in 2014 and 2015 I was an intake worker at a homeless shelter. In 2015 I became a soldier of The Salvation Army. 2015 to 2017 I did a 2 year internship in Upper Michigan at a corps serving Escanaba along Bay De Noc. From there I went to Chicago in 2017 and studied for 2 more years, and finally I saw the blessing become a reality in 2019 when I became a corps officer.

And so today I walk in that blessing. Of course there are other blessings God has promised me, which I still wait for today.

But imagine Abraham, walking in the blessing, enjoying special memory after special memory with his son Isaac.

And then this happens.. from Genesis 22:1-18 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

So after everything, all the waiting, God said, alright, I want you to give up Isaac. Will you give up your only son because I’m your God?

What on Earth is going on? He received this blessing, Isaac his son. And now God commands him to offer him as a sacrifice?

But Abraham had an incredible faith, a trust in God that went beyond anything. He knew God would provide somehow. So let’s see what happened next.

"Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

We often say that we are saved by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ. And that is certainly true. That’s from Romans. But it’s also true that faith without works is dead, which is from the book of James. We often talk about how “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Which is certainly true. Yet, in Genesis we also see Abraham received the promise only after he had obeyed God, by being willing to offer up everything to God, even his own son. Faith without works is dead. His faith came together expressed as works as Abraham went up to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.

But God stopped him, and said, I myself will provide. Which is our name of God, for today, Jehovah-jireh, God will provide or God who provides.

God spared Abraham’s only son, but He did not spare his own son Jesus Christ, but gave his son Jesus Christ to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, so we could have eternal life with him in paradise.

God himself would provide. How often when we have a problem, we try to provide ourselves for the solution. That is why every religion on planet Earth, every man made one, is all about doing good deeds to try to make things right with God. But not with our God. Our God, the real and true God, provides a way for us through Himself, through Jesus Christ, not from our own efforts. Jesus Christ becomes our way, our healing, our righteousness, and our hope for eternal life.

Jehovah-jireh, our God himself provides, we must renounce our own efforts to prove ourselves worthy by doing enough good things or being a moral person, we can’t be good enough to please God, instead we must repent of our sins and put our faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation. And then our sins are blotted out, and we gifted with new life. It’s a gift. A free gift.

Just like God provided the ram to replace Isaac, so God provides Jesus to pay off our sin debt. That is the arrangement, can you receive it today? Can you repent and put your faith in Him? Can you set aside your own efforts, and rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ?

Jehovah-jireh, God himself provides.

The Parable of the Sheep & the Goats: The Final Judgment

“His German name was Karl der Grosse. At age twenty-nine, he was crowned the ruler of a tiny kingdom in what is now modern-day France. Few people at his coronation thought that King Karl would one day reshape the map of Europe.

At the time of Karl’s ascension in 771, Europe was a collection of petty fiefdoms, plagued by superstition and ignorance, poverty and pestilence. Lost in the dark ages.

In this apocalyptic age, Karl rose up to rescue Christendom. By sheer brutality, he dragged Europe out of the Dark Ages. Over the next forty-two years he fought fifty-three wars. When he defeated an army or captured a city, he insisted that everyone convert to Christianity. Those who refused were slaughtered.

By the cross and sword, he carved out an empire that went from the Atlantic to Russia. Then he spent his final years building monasteries and universities, trying to atone for his reign of terror. He died as one of the most powerful men in the world.

Two centuries later, workmen accidentally broke into Karl’s burial crypt under the cathedral in Aachen, Germany. As they peered into the musty darkness, they saw a two-hundred-year-old skeleton encased in cobwebs and tied to a throne. A crown was perched sideways on a grinning skull.

As the workers inched closer, they saw a table holding a large Bible. The right index finger of the skeleton was resting on a verse in the open book. The workmen called for a priest. Holding a candle close to the Bible, he read the Latin verse of Jesus’ words: “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

History remembers him by a single name, Charlemagne. Each of us has been shaped by the way he transformed history. Yet as he coughed out his last, he ordered his body to be buried in a way that would give a message: both the great and small will appear equally naked before God to give an account for their lives.” -Robert A. Petterson, The One Year Book of Amazing Stories

Today as we discuss the parables of Jesus, we see a parable that tells us about the great final judgment that every human on planet Earth will participate in, including even the great Charlamagne, and you, and me.

We find this parable in Matthew chapter 25, which shares three different parables all in connection to the return of Jesus Christ. The parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the talents, and the parable of the sheep and the goats, which we’ll be looking at today.

Additionally, in Matthew 24, we see Jesus talking about the end times, so nestled immediately after his talk about the last days and the destruction of the temple, are these 3 parables.

The parable is very simple, yet it’s also quite complex. It’s also exceedingly practical. It’s a parable about sheep and goats. It’s interesting how Jesus taught the crowds who followed him. He taught spiritual truths by referring to normal parts of everyday life. Typically, ancient nations like Israel were designed in a particular way. There were various walled cities, to defend against invading armies. And these walled cities would be surrounded by farmlands and grazing pastures. There was no complicated supply chain to keep everyone supplied. If a city wanted food, it would have to be surrounded by farm lands and flocks and herds. It’s fairly common. If you think about Owosso it’s pretty similar, you have the inner city area, and surrounding the city you see various farm lands.

So what would everyone see and be aware of? Flocks of sheep, goats, farming, planting, and so on. So Jesus taught referencing such things. If Jesus was walking the Earth today, I imagine he would reference things like the internet, cars, colleges, industries, restaurants, and sports teams.

But in any case Jesus teaches here in Matthew 25, verses 31 through 46 about when he returns to Earth. We know that this will happen at some point in the future, though we don’t know exactly when.

So let’s just dive in. It says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

Typically sheep will follow their master, and tend to gather in flocks. Goats are different. They are more independent and more likely to be resistant and go their own way. Jesus uses a simple contrast to help us understand the judgment.

And it continues saying, “34 “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.’”

If Jesus taught this parable today he would be accused of teaching a works based gospel. This kind of talk makes us nervous as protestants, what about grace through faith alone! Just believe! Well, here it is. Jesus puts a firm emphasis on what people did. Now they couldn’t do any of these things properly without believing in Him first. But the fact that these people bear fruit, it’s very important. It’s vital. It’s evidence of real faith. And if it’s not happening, something is very wrong. This bothers us. Good deeds? What about faith! It’s right here in the word. And it’s a parable that really fits well with the work of The Salvation Army. This is the kind of stuff we do. And we’re wise to do it.

I felt very early on as a Christian that I wanted to be part of a church that was really doing something, really connected with the community, really being the hands and feet of Jesus. And the Lord led me to begin working as a caseworker at a salvation army homeless shelter. I loved it.

But this is what we do right? We provide food to the hungry. We provide water to the thirsty. We provide housing assistance and motel vouchers for the homeless. We provide “coats for kids” which fulfills that mandate to provide clothing. And we’re also called to visit and care for the sick, and to visit those in jail.

Now you may be tempted to say well The Salvation Army facility does that so I’m good, well, hold on, are you living this out? I want to challenge you today, be out there meeting needs. Make it part of your life, make a plan, and get to work providing for the needs of others. I’m quite serious. Find ways to make it happen.

The scriptures continues, “37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

The amazing thing is, whenever we do one of these things for someone in need, it’s just like we did it for Jesus himself. Did you give someone some food? You did it for Jesus. Did you visit someone in hospital? You did it for Jesus. Did you minister to a child at VBS? You did it for Jesus.

Sometimes I know full well that someone is trying to take advantage of me. I know of them around town. But then I remind myself, it doesn’t really matter, because I’m doing it for Jesus. So I help them. That’s my calling.

And apparently part of our judgment as Christians will be, did we fulfill these mandates to help those in need? And in particular, did we help other Christians in need?

That’s the most difficult part of this parable to understand though, for theologians, is Jesus talking about “the least of these my brothers” is he talking about Christians only? Or is he talking about helping anyone? Honestly, I think the best way to resolve this, is to simply help whoever is in need. We could say, and particularly, be helping other Christian brothers and sisters, is that fair? Help anyone, but in particular, if a Christian brother or sister is in need in your faith community, prioritize that need.

Then we see Jesus addressing those on the left, the goats, “‘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.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.””

Have you ever noticed someone in need, and the Lord was moving in your heart to go talk to them or help them or pray for them, and you felt the Holy Spirit say go do it, and you didn’t? There have been times that I’ve felt that. And I always regret it later. So if the Spirit is speaking to you, be sure to go quickly and do it. Just do it. Go quickly.

One teacher said when the Spirit tells her, she just takes a deep breath, counts to 3, and just does it. Because it’s her calling as a Christian.

And honestly, if you did feel the Lord moving you to help someone or meet a need, and you didn’t do it, frankly, you need to repent and ask God’s forgiveness. The Bible says that to know the good we’re supposed to do, and to not do it, to you that is sin, from James 4:17. So ask God’s forgiveness for failing to be his hands and feet, and repent.

In any case, we see Jesus saying depart from me, to the goats, who did not care for him. These are the lazy Christians who did not help those in need. They didn’t serve others. They served themselves. And if we live that way, we’ll be held accountable.

Jesus actually says to them, you are cursed, into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Scary stuff. And sometimes we don’t like to talk about this part, about divine accountability. God is love. God is mercy. God is gracious. But God is also a just judge.

JI Packer a famous theologian said, from his book, Your Father Loves You, “Why do men shy away from the thought of God as a judge? Why do they feel unworthy of him? The truth is that part of God's moral perfection is his perfection in judgment. Would a God who did not care about the difference between right and wrong be a good and admirable being? Would a God who put no distinction between the beasts of history, the Hitlers and Stalins, and his own saints be morally praiseworthy and perfect? Moral indifference would be an imperfection in God, not a perfection. And not to judge the world would be to show moral indifference. The final proof that God is a perfect moral being, not indifferent to questions of right and wrong, is the fact that he has committed himself to judge the world.”

It matters how you live and the choices to make. We are accountable to God. And there will be a day of judgment, when we give an account for how we lived.

So we see Jesus teaches us to do the following:
  • Provide food for the hungry
  • Water for the thirsty
  • Invite the Stranger in (housing)
  • Providing clothing to those without
  • Caring for those who are sick
  • Visiting those in jail
Do these things in your daily life. God will give you opportunities to help people and meet needs. All you have to do is take those opportunities.

What is our motivation for this lifestyle of service: God is really real. The Bible is really God’s word. Jesus Christ is really my savior. Which means every good deed I do in this life for someone, is just like I did it for Jesus my dear friend himself. And I know I will be rewarded in heaven for each good deed I do.

There are many who testify to having near death experiences, or visions from God, in which they see Jesus in heaven, and Jesus will show these people their house in heaven, and how every time they do a good deed, or preach the gospel, or meet someone’s need, it adds on something new to the house. And Jesus is the carpenter, building the house in heaven, preparing it for them when they arrive in heaven. How beautiful is that? I think it’s amazing. And indeed God’s word says that we will be rewarded for what we do in this life for Christ. Great is our reward in heaven, when we serve Jesus here. Every loaf of bread, every gallon of water, every piece of clothing given to those in need are jewels in your crown in heaven.

I know these things are true. So Christians, be like the sheep who follow our great shepherd Jesus Christ. Don’t be like the goats, who pretend to care about the needy, but don’t really do anything to help people. They just serve themselves. Don’t just pretend. Really live it out.