Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Parables of Jesus: Matthew Chapter 25

Video Message:

Recently I went to see the movie Darkest Hour with my dad at the theatre, a stunning film revolving around the decisions and speeches of the great leader Winston Churchill during the dark days of World War II. The whole world was at the brink of collapse.

Let’s go back in time: It’s 1939 and darkness is spreading through Europe. The Nazi military seems unstoppable. There is a genocidal regime so terrible that it’s exterminating millions of Jews and Christians. Think about how it must’ve felt for the people of Great Britain. They saw Austria fall, then they saw Poland fall. Then even the mighty French army is crushed and the Nazi flag flies over Paris. You send your troops to help the French, but in just a few weeks, they are forced to flee in retreat. Europe, conquered by the Nazis. And it seemed there was no hope for civilization left. Imagine that situation, and your Winston Churchill, prime minister, shivering at the thought of the fall of not only Great Britain, but of all free people on Earth.

This reminds me of the situation we are in as the church today. Our forces are crumbling. Corps are seeing decreased attendance, and are in danger of shutting down. And we’re afraid to face that reality. We’re losing. And we seem to be losing ground each day.

Thankfully Jesus lives, and we are his people. We are the soldiers of the Salvation Army, and as such we have a great calling ahead of us.

I imagine Winston Churchill felt the same way when he looked across the channel toward occupied France. Or when he felt the concussive force of bombs dropping over London. Is this the end? He must’ve wondered. But sometimes it takes just one man, one woman, willing to believe in the impossible, who can change everything.

Winston Churchill was courageous. He said “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Great Britain fought on. And eventually the war was won.

Similarly, we are soldiers in a grand campaign. And as soldiers our job is to obey the orders of our commanding officer, the Lord Jesus. And he has commanded us in the great commission: To make disciples of all nations.

There is so much corruption, poverty, immorality, and brokenness in this world. But at times like these, when everything seems to be crumbling, God loves to work mightily. It's at times like these that we'll know through and through, that it was only by God's power that we could overcome such darkness.

So as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, as warriors, we must stand the test. We must fight the good fight. We must do what the master has taught us. Jesus gives us instructions in Matthew chapter 25, regarding what he expect of his disciples in these fallen times.

1.The Ten Virgins - First of all we see that Christ calls us to be on our guard, alert, and ready for His return by storing up zeal and practicing spiritual disciplines to remain strong in the faith. It says in our first parable from Matthew 25: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.” –Matthew 25:1-10

There is always the danger in life to forget who we are, and drift away from our daily Christian practices. Our God knows that, and He reminds us clearly and warns us that we must continue steadfastly in the faith.

How can we do this? We can read our Bibles each day, and pray daily. This isn’t a sprint competition; this is a long distance run. We don’t know which day will be our last. We don’t know when Jesus will return. So we must be prudent, just as the virgins were prudent in storing up oil for their long journey.

2. The Talents - Next we turn our attention to the parable of the talents. The parable begins in this way: “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” –Matthew 25:14-15

So we see a master, and his slaves. The master is going away, so he entrusts certain measures of wealth to three of his servants. Then we see the story develop, time passes, the servants make their decisions and the master returns. The first slave uses the wealth to double the master’s profits. So he is rewarded. The second slave does the same, with a smaller amount, doubling that amount. And once again the slave is rewarded. The third slave insults the master, accuses the master of not even having authority over his own possessions and then says that he buried the money, and returned what he had been given to the master. The master rebukes the slave, and takes the wealth away from him, and gives it to the faithful slave. And it concludes in this way: “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” –Matthew 25:29-30

We of course want to be the faithful servant of Christ. We want to be the servant that wisely invests his talents and gives a return to the master. Each of us, just as if we’d been given $20,000 dollars, or 50 acres of property, have each been given gifts, talents, and special abilities. We’re usually pretty well aware as to what they are. For me, one of my gifts is writing. So I ask myself, how can I apply this gift of writing toward God’s kingdom? We should seek to take our gifts, which God has given for his glory, and apply them to the glory of his kingdom. Part of investing our talents, is developing them. How has God gifted you? Are you talented at public speaking? Develop that skill and put it to use. Are you musically talented? Develop and hone that skill to the glory of God.

3. The Judgment – Finally we address the 3rd and final parable of Matthew chapter 25. In this account we see Christ reward those faithful sheep who have followed the shepherd, and achieved victory through the struggle.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation 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 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 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 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” –Matthew 25:34-40

Jesus says if we do these things, if we visit the sick, and the prisoners, if we feed people who come to us in need, then there is this reality: The people we feed, and visit and serve, they are actually Jesus. Behind the eyes of each person you and I serve, are the eyes of Jesus, looking back at us.

I started my work with the Salvation Army working intake at a homeless shelter. I used to hand out Bibles to every person that came in to the shelter. I loved that part of it. And in the story in our heads, that’s where it ends. We nobly feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and they give us a big hug, and say “oh thank you sir.” And then they accept Jesus as their savior.

But in reality that’s not often what happens. What often happens is you’ll see that person again, making progress, then slipping back, over and over, and it can be very difficult to deal with. And I recall I’d hand out Bibles, and a week later I’d go over to the book case in the main room of the shelter, and collect the Bibles I’d given out. They’d been left there. So, I’d just hand them out to new people! That’s the challenge of ministry. It’s not easy. The truth is, in this sort of messy ministry, they are Jesus to us.

So how do we put this into practice? Sometimes we can have the mistaken idea in ministry that it’s all about the pastor. And the congregation becomes the audience. But that’s exactly backwards. The chief role of the pastor is simply to teach, lead, and then step back, and empower Christians to do the real work of ministry.

We are good soldiers of Jesus Christ. And so it is our duty to serve. Let other churches and congregations be vacant audiences to show time services. But in this army we are soldiers.

So what ministry is God calling you to serve in? God could be calling you to volunteer with a feeding program. God could be calling you to serve in children’s ministry. Or maybe God is calling you to start a Bible study? Be creative. Think about your talents and gifts. What is a unique way that you could serve?

We are purchased with the blood of Christ, our lives are not our own. Jesus has purchased us, He owns us, and therefore we must do as He instructs us. It amazes me that Christ would choose you and I, with such a peculiar and specific love for each of us. It's what spurs us to do anything. Not to buy His love, not to earn it, but because we already have it in Christ.

So we will fight. We must fight. Remember that we are faced with a world rapidly crumbling. People are so confused in our day and age, and sin is rampant. We are in desperate need of good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We’re the last line of defense. Time is running out. But just like Winston Churchill, perhaps you’ll be one of those people who determine in their minds that God will change history. As William Booth the founder said, “God loves with a great love one whose heart is bursting with a passion for the impossible.”

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