Friday, February 24, 2023

Busy While You Wait: The Sheep and Goats

Here we go!

"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.

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. 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, 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.’

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

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.’

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. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.’

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?’

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.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:31-46)

Matthew in Chapters 23-25 chronicles an interesting series of parables as we come to the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, warning the crowds and His disciples not to be like them in any way. He mourned for Jerusalem, knowing what will befall it in the future. His disciples, astonished that anything will come against the mighty City of David (after all, God's house is there!), asked Him to elaborate on the coming destruction and what will precede His return.

He tells them the signs to look for and how the future will be similar to Noah's time. People will be focused on their daily lives and will ignore the warnings until this future "flood" will come and sweep them away.

Jesus subsequently starts a series of parables, underscoring the preceding discourse. He talks of the "faithful and wise servant" who serves his master faithfully, even though the master is not around. He contrasts this with a "wicked" servant, whose self-serving behavior betrays his supposed love for his master.

He then talks of the ten virgins. Five are completely prepared to meet the bridegroom. He contrasts these with the five who didn't care enough to be ready for him.

If Jesus told the crowd and His disciples not to be like the Pharisees (who are the supposed local role models for Godly living) then who should they emulate? These parables unpack that question beautifully: Love and serve the Master and Bridegroom out of reverence and love, and act as if each coming day will be that Day! Don't behave out of fear and duty.

Love is the calling card of this new Kingdom. The older Kingdom with its Temple, sacrifices, and priests will be fulfilled by a new covenant. This will be the New Covenant of Jesus' blood. He will enter Jerusalem as the final sacrificial Lamb. God will be fully satisfied by what His Son will soon do.

The Temple will be demolished by the Romans in 70 AD and the Jewish people will be scattered to the four winds. But this New Covenant will sustain and supply the Kingdom of God will everything it needs: faithful servants of God, empowered by His very own Spirit.

The Temple of God will be these new believers, as they come to be indwelt by His Holy Spirit. The Sacrifice will be His Son. And the priests? Us.

Next, Jesus talks of three men who were given talents, and were expected by their departing master to use them wisely, multiplying what they have. The one fellow who buries his talents, because he considers his master harsh and unforgiving, is castigated for acting out of fear and selfishness.

Onto the next parable, the one about the sheep and the goats.

The sheep are sheep because of how they acted. They relieved the suffering of others, especially those whom the old order--the Pharisees--despised: the hungry, the naked, the foreigner, the sick and the criminal. While the Pharisees stood about, debating the minute details of the Law, dressed in glorious attire and sought to silence Jesus, those who really knew His Father were out and about, meeting the needs of the people who needed God the most.

The goats are goats because of how they acted. They saw the need. They weren't ignorant of the hungry or the naked. What they refused to see was that their Heavenly Father wanted to use their hands and feet to push His Kingdom forward. They were too busy debating, parading and masquerading as if the Kingdom was on their terms. They could do what they wanted, when and with whom they deigned to be kind with, and that was good enough. Right?


All of these parables boil down to one key truth: while you are waiting for Him to return, serve others. Love others as you love Jesus. Prompted by His Spirit, be willing to be His hands and feet in this needy world.

Know your Master well by reading His Word and spending time with Him. Thus, you will serve Him out of reverence and love. Duty and fear have no place in this Kingdom.

You'll be so busy doing Kingdom work, His return will happily catch you by surprise.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Hey Sister, Can You Spare Some Oil? The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Here we go!

"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

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.

Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." (Matt. 25: 1-13)

Jesus has just discussed about how leadership in the Kingdom of God is characterized by "servantship." He describes a person who is dutiful in love and commitment whether or not the master is present. This person serves out of love for the master and for his fellow servants--pure and simple.

Love is the hallmark of a Kingdom servant. The "job qualifications" for such a servant is outlined by Paul so wonderfully in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. God's love for us was made manifest in the giving of His Son:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

Commitment is equally important, and comes from love. Love is the attitude such a servant takes because he responds to the great love lavished on him by the Master. Commitment is love put into action.

Love says, "I will be there for you."

Commitment says, "Hold on! I'm coming!"

So, Jesus moves from His servant parable in Matthew 24:45-51 to the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25. The servant parable shows how love is our attitude. This next parable shows how commitment is love in action:

OK, we could talk about being prepared for that momentous day when He returns. Yes, the parable illustrates that. But why be prepared in the first place? The other five ladies went with the first five. They at least brought their lamps. That was worth something, right?

Yes, only if a servant's motivation is to appear prepared.

In other words, the servant is acting as if love for the master drives what that servants does. The servant appears to love the master. But Jesus isn't about appearances. He is concerned about the heart and its ultimate motivation. He is asking in this parable:

Are you doing just the minimum for My Father--do you just grab the lamp but figure you'll get the oil later? Do you think, Hey, I am doing my duty. That should be enough.

Are you doing what you can for My Father--grabbing the lamp and the oil and waiting in eager expectation for the Son? Do you think, Hey, I am ready no matter when He shows up, because I love Him.

Love is the sustaining factor. The Bridegroom may be awhile. It is our love for Him that means you come prepared with whatever is needed to further Kingdom work. If you bring a lamp, you need to bring the oil. You can't be light if you serve Him out of duty. Your love is the oil--it keeps the light burning in the darkness and lights the way for others.

In the parable, when the bridegroom appears, all the ladies were asleep. I like the tender touch here--Jesus recognizes that in our weakness, we may grow tired and perhaps take a snooze. Our flesh is so weak.  Remember how the apostles on the night Jesus was arrested fell asleep?

But, if we know we are weak, then His strength is manifested in us and our love drives us to grab His hand and get going. We don't allow our weakness to be the excuse for self-pity, which leads to inaction. "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Cor. 12:9)

Wake up; don't wallow up. Grab your lamp and oil. The Kingdom needs your light.

Our love for Him, united with His strength, will yield joyful servants in His kingdom. It will end, yes, with a wedding feast. That's why Jesus used a wedding feast to illustrate what His arrival will be like!

One more observation about this parable: All the ladies woke up with the announcement of the bridegroom's arrival, but not all were ready. We can't rely on our pastor, our mom or dad, our whatever, to walk as servants for us. There are no grandchildren in God's Kingdom: only sons and daughters, who have made the choice to be His own. We can't borrow from others.

What would we think of a best man who grabbed a bouquet from the flower girl at a wedding and presented it to the bride as if he had bought it for her?

We would scowl at him and say, "You knew you were the best man. You knew that you were responsible for bringing a bouquet to the bride. You knew all of this before the actual day, for the bridegroom told you when he asked you. Do you think the bridegroom will not notice how careless you are, by trying to pass off that little girl's bouquet as your own?"

Bingo. Jesus, in His parables and teachings, is the Bridegroom instructing us as to what to do and what to bring as His day approaches. We are to bring love and commitment to what He asks of us. We gladly go out and do it, even if we get tired now and then.

Isn't it interesting that at the end, when the door is shut, and the five ladies ask to come in, the bridegroom says, "I don't know you." Duty, guilt and obligation are not substitutes for knowing and serving Him.

Our servant's heart is created the day He enters in. With His Holy Spirit, He gives us a heart of flesh for a heart of stone. We love Him, wanting to know Him better at the end of the day than we did at the beginning. His mercies are new every morning, so we start afresh as servants each day. We put feet to our love by being committed to Him and His kingdom.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Don't Be a Fool School: The Wise and Faithful Servants


"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  (Luke 12: 42-48)

Jesus excoriated earlier the Pharisees for their willingness to burden people with rules that they themselves do not follow. He presented His case against them as "woes," telling what they do and how this doesn't square with what the Scriptures say.

He then leaves the Temple. His disciples excitedly point out the beauty of this structure to Jesus, joyful at seeing the permanency of God's House.

The disciples are looking for something that pleases God in all of this. Jesus has effectively dismissed the religious leaders as non-viable leaders in God's kingdom. The disciples are saying, If the religious leaders are not worthy servants in God's house, then let's look at the Temple itself, and be thankful that God's house stands! Here is something we can be proud of, right, Jesus?

Jesus, in response to their confidence, says that every stone will be "thrown down." The Temple itself will be dismantled.

They all walk up to the Mount of Olives and gather around Him. I am sure while they were walking, the disciples were disconsolate; how could this beautiful Temple, God's own house, not forever stand?  How could this be? By the time they are able to sit down, and ask Jesus to explain, their hearts are very troubled, but open.

Jesus explains what signs will precede the end. He gives His disciples information empowering them to not fear and to continue what He has begun. The Temple, the religious leaders and what they see will all soon disappear.

So, who will carry on God's work on this earth? Who will staff and run what You have begun, Lord?

Jesus then teaches, by way of several parables, what a citizen of God's new kingdom will be as the old order passes away:

Willing to have a servant's heart ("The Parable of Wise and Faithful Servant")

Willing to get ready and stay prepared for His arrival ("The Parable of the Ten Virgins")

Willing to use whatever God bestows to further His Kingdom ("The Parable of the Talents")

Willing to serve God by serving the "least of these" ("The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats")

To be an active member of the newly arriving God's Kingdom, your status is one of a servant. But, you have a choice of what kind of servant you'll be.

Class is now in session.  Listen up, students. Please open up your Bible to Luke, chapter 12: 

The faithful servant will: Take care of the other servants, even down to serving them their daily bread. This servant will be attentive to others' needs, making sure that they are taken care of, so they can go out and do the work that the master requires. This servant isn't obedient just when the master is watching or is in residence. This servant is dutiful all the time, doing what is necessary all the time and cheerful all the time. Why? Because this servant, heart and soul, wants to please the master. That is the servant's only motivation.

This servant lives out a key element in the Kingdom: You serve the Master by serving others.

The Pharisees served God, but in reality, they were serving themselves. Their motivation was one of personal aggrandizement. They wanted the accolades of others, and their service to God was a means to that end. Serving God alone was not enough.

A true servant serves God because it is extension of that servant's love for Him. Love alone is enough to serve. Why? Because the servant knows the Master deeply and thus loves the Master deeply. Service is based on a relationship, not an obligation.

The master, seeing the servant's love played out in selfless service, hands over his possessions to this servant. He trusts the servant without reservation and likewise the servant to the master. Mi casa su casa: All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.

Now, let's look at the foolish servant.

His love for the master wanes as the master is away. It's a kind of proximity love: I love you when you're around, because it meets a need in me. When you're away, I look elsewhere. My love is not based on who you are but on what you can do for me. So, with you away, I am in charge. I am not acting on the master's behalf; I am taking the reins of the master and acting as if I am the master. So, I will beat offending servants, not take care of them. I will go where and when I please. Besides, the master is taking his sweet time...Why can't I?

Because this servant is so busy serving himself, he won't notice the signs. The master's absence has caused this servant's heart to grow cold. And hard. This servant is not just hanging out idly; he's actively beating his fellow servants and getting loaded with a questionable crowd.

But the master does return. He is appalled by such hypocritical behavior. The master hears this servant's heart: Hey, yeah, I am your servant, but I while I like the title, I do not like the responsibilities. I am serving myself, because I tried the servant thing, and that grew boring. The other servants didn't appreciate all my hard work on your behalf. You didn't appreciate all my hard work, either. I should get something out of this service thing. I like it when the other servants shrink away in fear, and act as if I am the master. It's good to be king.

Sounds like the Pharisees, doesn't it?

Leaders in this new Kingdom will be servants who wash others' feet and give of themselves wholeheartedly. They will do so for one reason: their love of God.

The fate of this foolish servant is a "place with the hypocrites." Pride will be traded in for tears, and disobedience for regret.

The Temple will soon be gone. The old order of sacrifice will soon be gone.

The new temple will be each servant's heart, a new house of God, indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The sacrifice will be Jesus on the cross, and His death will satisfy God's demand for justice for all time.

Class dismissed.

Now, go choose.

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