And then there were two…
- Remember large games of dodgeball with like 50 children. Everyone is loud and frenzied, most of the girls are in back row or huddled together. The boys are silly stupid and take foolish risks, which they get hit out from their team. After countless ball throws back and forth, a few line violations, and a couple minor concussions, the massive group on each side dwindles to one on each side. Only one team will win.
These final chapters in Matthew’s Gospel remind us there are only two eternal destinations. In Matthew 25, the last teaching account of Jesus is telling three parables: The 10 Maidens, The Talents, The Sheep & Goats. The point of each one is that Jesus will come to earth not just as an infant in a cradle but as the judge of all creation. Each parable is connected and climaxes w/ practical application for what it means to follow Jesus as a Christian.
- Matthew 25:1-13 with 5 foolish maidens who took no extra oil for lamps and 5 wise maidens who took oil and trimmed their wicks. The foolish maidens didn’t have Amazon Prime and had to go to the store for more oil, so they missed the wedding feast. But the wise maidens were ready and entered in.
à Apply: Readiness for Jesus’s return includes fresh faith, not neglect.
- Matthew 25:14-30 with servants receiving talents. One year’s wages were 300 denarri; 6K denarri = 1 talent, which was about 20 years’ worth of wages. One servant receives 5 talents, another 2 talents, and another 1 talent. The first two doubled their talents, while the last avoided any risk and buried his talent. The one’s who multiplied talents entered joy of the master, but the lazy servant was sentenced to the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth.
à Apply: Leveraging resources for the Lord. Life is too short, hell is too hot, eternity is too long for Christians to sit as idle spectators or mere consumers of church programs and activities. But what does this look like in practice? This leads to the third parable.
- Matthew 25:31-46 with Jesus separating the sheep from the goats.
EXAMINE Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus & Kingdom
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man,” a title used 65 times in the Gospels, which identifies him as God (cf Dan 7). In the end times, Jesus will not return as a Suffering Servant, meek and mild, born in a manger, or humbly riding on a donkey. Instead, Jesus is the one who sits on the throne and will return to earth with majestic glory and mighty angels. He has divine authority to determine the fixed and forever destinies of every soul.
He will gather all the nations (ἔθνος = people groups) and separate the sheep from the goats. People in Jesus’s day were familiar with this analogy, as sheep and goats mixed during the day, but at night they were separated based on their different care (relating to one another, feeding, protecting, etc.) from the shepherd.
Do not read politics into right/left; it’s simply a past stereotype of right-hand dominance.
35 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,
36 I was 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, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 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.’
We are tempted to read meaning into this text (eisegesis), rather than out of (exegesis). Verses 34 and 37 are not to be missed. In these verses Jesus clearly notes that salvation is “blessed by the Father” (v.34) and those who have been declared “righteous” (v.37). We know from the whole of Scripture that God’s blessing is by mercy not merit, and there is no one righteous, not one. In this parable, Jesus is not saying salvation is based on the works of humanitarian projects but by the sheer grace of God. However, Jesus is highlighting that there is no way a person can be truly saved if they are not being generous toward the needy and neglected.
- Beloved disciple John noted it was not possible to love God and neglect/hate others (1 Jn 4:20).
- Half-brother James noted it was not possible to have faith without compassionate works (Ja 2:14, ff).
- Rock disciple Peter noted believers are royal priesthoods proclaiming marvelous light in darkness (1P 2:9, ff).
You see, there are two indicators of our faith: words and deeds. Our tongue tells others we are saved, but so does our life. The catch is our life never lies but our mouth might. And, while we can fool some of the people some of the time, we can never fool God any of the time. God sees the candid testimony of our character.
Specifically, Jesus identifies compassion for these individuals was toward “the least of these brothers/sisters.” Who are Jesus’ brothers/sisters?
- (Matthew 12:46) While he was still speaking to the people, behold his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers/sisters?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers/sisters! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.
- (Mat 23:8) … you [disciples] are all brothers.
- (Mat 28:10) [after Jesus’ resurrection] Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers/sisters to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Essentially, Jesus is indicating a priority care for the people of God.
- (1 John 3:17) “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
- (Romans 12:13) “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
- (Galatians 6:10) “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Please note, indicating a priority care for the people of God does not dismiss or undervalue God’s peerless heart for the poor in general (cf. Psalm 9:17-18; 12:5; 35:10; 72:12-14; 113:5-8; 140:12; 146:5-9; Proverbs 14:21, 31; 22:22-23; 28:27; Isaiah 1:17; 25:4; 58; Jer 22:3; Amos 2:6-7; 4:1; 8:4; Zech 7:8-10; Lk 14:14; etc.). These verses, and many others portray a wickedness of those who neglect the poor. Further, they show the heart of Father God, who provides and uplifts the poor in ways we can only measure in eternity.
Namely, the church is expected to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27; 1 Tim 5), along with “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Lk 14:14). In other words, the church and Christians are to be good neighbors to all those with legitimate needs. Indeed, the early church cared for the most impoverished and unwanted that it stood out as different and credible.
The OT practices of caring for the poor were unique:
- God’s command for generosity and justice.
- Unique practice of not reaping the field edges, so the poor could glean from the harvest
(Lev 23:22; 25:39, 47-48; Deut 24:19-21)
- Canceling debts every 7 / 50 years (Lev 25:8-12; Deut 15:1-11)
- Added offerings to share (Deut 14:28-29)
- Overall command for compassion (Deut 15:4, 7, 11)
- Unique practice of not reaping the field edges, so the poor could glean from the harvest
- Similar to the OT, modern society is not to enslave people for any reason, much more to pay debts. Bankruptcy laws provide relief to those with unpayable debts and not unduly enslaving descendants. Basic property is protected from seizure. Additionally, the solution is not in mere hand-outs, but hand-ups, to give every person an opportunity for dignity through work and productivity (2 Thes 3:10).
The above verses describe disciples of Jesus doing good and sharing generosity toward everyone in need. Prov 3:37 may say it best, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
What is remarkable is that action done toward these individuals is as if it were done personally to Jesus Christ. The image of God is instilled in each person, requiring that we treat everyone with respect.
- Hungry provided food.
- Thirsty provided drink.
- Strangers provided hospitality.
- Naked provided clothing.
- Sick provided care.
- Prison provided dignity.
How should a Christian/church consider their obligation to the underprivileged?
- Principle of proximity. The closer you are to someone – relationally, spiritually, or geographically), then the greater your obligation is to get involved. Christians are called to care for their biological family (1Tim 3:5, 12; 5:8). Christians have a spiritual responsibility for other believers/church (1Jn 3:17; Rom 12:13; Gal 6:10). And every follower of Jesus is called to be a good neighbor, defined by anyone you encounter (Lk 10:29). The farther removed you are from the person/circumstance, is less obligation and should exhibit discernment for your personal involvement.
à If you’re raising children, you have hungry chatterboxes around you every day. God has given you a responsibility and stewardship to provide for your family. And while we can choose our spiritual family and friends, we cannot choose our biological family. God gave them to you for a reason, and we should minister when a need arises, and God have provided the means.
à While SP area is middle & upper class socio-economic, there are pockets of need and underprivileged surrounding us or that we encounter. Consider your network proximity relationally, spiritual, and geographically.
- Principle of provision. The tangible nature of God’s provision of time, ability/means, passion, experiences could indicate opportunity for your involvement. God has provided our family with 5 children, which has resulted in a plethora of infant/toddler clothing & items. Over the years we have been able to pass along items to meet the needs of others. Some of you have accumulated tools or experiences that have shaped your interests and influence. When God intersects your supply with the world’s demands, then these are opportunities to be a blessing.
- What’s in your hand? It may be little like, 5 loaves and two fish, but God can multiply it to make much. Maybe you can make phone calls to those unable to get out during covid. Maybe you can tutor with children of working parents. Maybe you have a growing garden and can generously pass along food. Whatever God has created and cultivated in your life, then God wants to use that in caring for others (2Cor 1:4-5); and sometimes your messes become ministry. Don’t waste your suffering. Let your failures and fiascoes be shared with life lessons to help others.
Ultimately, Jesus is making a point that religious belief without relevant behavior is empty and eternally damned. The difference between the righteous sheep and the wicked goats depends if you are actively advancing the mission of the kingdom of God.
41 “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.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
43 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.’
44 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?’
45 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.’
46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The attitude of the goats was, “If we knew it was you Jesus, we would have served. But we thought it was only a common person who wasn’t worth helping.” The problem with goats is they expect to receive grace but seldom want to give it.
- Goats don’t really want to be saved from their sin, just merely saved from the penalty of their sin.
- Goats turn toward God but don’t love Him enough to also turn away from their sin. They care more about having temporarily sanitized lives rather than truly set apart for disciplined holiness (sanctified).
- Goats view God as useful but not beautiful. He’s a means to their end, rather than viewing God as the object of affection. As long as God provides health, wealth, and happiness then they’re in; but if not, then they view God as abandoning them, absent, or question his existence.
- Goats think much more about happiness on earth than the joys of heaven.
- Goats are inspired by other people’s testimonies of God using them to advance the kingdom, but they do not obey in similar opportunities to have their own testimonies. They call radical what Jesus regularly expects of all his followers.
- Goats hide behind “not feeling called.” Not called!?! What words do you need to hear for God to call you to obedience? “Did you hear God calling you to watch tv yesterday? Did you hear the call to go on your last vacation? Did you listen for the voice telling you to eat breakfast and exercise this morning? Probably not, but you still live life based on what you think is essential and enjoyable. The point isn’t that vacations, or exercise are wrong, but that we are quick to rationalize our entertainment and priorities yet are slow to commit to serving God.”
- Goats don’t structure their lifestyle by faith, but only what makes sense in the eyes of others. They’re not expressive in worship; they’re not desperate in devotional life; they’re not available with their time; they’re not generous in their giving; they’re not committed to any serious level of community but only the crowds; in all, they’re constantly giving God the leftovers. They excuse spiritual apathy as “humble brag of imperfection” and their church commitment as having a “busy schedule.” Jesus calls it hypocrisy and wickedness.
- Goats talk a lot about the rest of the world going to hell, but seldom consider they might be too.
There are two reflections that have given me concern in this passage.
- The condemned servants weren’t entirely immoral. They weren’t human trafficking, mobbing the streets or murdering citizens. They weren’t gambling their children’s inheritance away or stealing checks from people’s mailboxes. They weren’t even Dallas Cowboy or Pittsburg Steeler fans! Ok seriously, my point is they were condemned with the devil based on not actively advancing God’s mission. They didn’t see people who were different as worthy of empathy or charity. This shows us being demonic is not just about depravity, but sometimes about distraction and indifference toward people.
- In the passage setting, in less than 48 hours Jesus will have been beaten bloodied and crucified on a cross. His death was not for His followers to have lukewarm commitment. The last sermon Jesus gives is about the mission of His church. Making disciples is about head, heart, and hands. Lord, let us lay everything we are and have, down at your feet…
 Donald Carson, Matthew, Expositors Bible Commentary. Note on 25:15.
 See Francis Chan, Crazy Love, p.169.
 See Francis Chan, Crazy Love, p.91.