The last time I led our discussion we talked about the last few chapters of Matthew 24, and Jesus discussion of the coming of the Son of Man. Our conclusion was that, since the time of His return was known only to the Father, we should stay busy about the Father’s work, like the slave in the parable was busy tending to his master’s business while the master was away. But just exactly what is the Father’s business? What should we be busy doing and how should we go about it?
First a brief word on the passages we have been reading. It is known by bible scholars as the Olivet Discourse, the Olivet Prophecy or the Little Apocalypse. It is found in all of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, 24 Mark 13, and Luke 21) and in Matthew it is the last of 5 Discourses of Jesus. In all three recountings of the discourse begins with someone commenting on the excellence of Herod’s temple in some form. Jesus tells them clearly of the coming destruction of the temple (which occurred in 70 AD at the hand of the Roman General (and later Emperor) Titus, who sacked the city and burned the temple to put down a revolt by the Jews. All this was recorded in minute detail by the Roman/Jewish historian Josephus.)
But Jesus’ comments about the temple were only prologue, meant to move peoples’ minds from the reality of the there and then to the reality that was to come. From the reality of the Kingdom ruled by Herod, and ultimately Caesar, to the reality of the Kingdom of God. And so in addition to the end of the Temple He spoke of the coming of the Son of Man and the end of the world as it has been known.
In our discussion we will be looking at another very familiar, and in this case vastly unpopular, passage from the end of the Discourse in Matthew, often referred to as the Judgement of the Sheep and Goats and found in Matthew 25:36-46. In Chapter 25 Jesus tells two parables: the parable of the 10 Virgins and the Parable of the Talents. But in Verse 36 he switches from parables to speaking about actual events. He does not use a parable here, only a simple simile.
The Jesus who knew he was about to be betrayed and die a horrible death speaks of triumph at the end of time. Triumph and judgement. And a strange judgement it is because the people being judged appear to have no idea how it is being done. I am borrowing heavily here from an article by Ray Stedman (you can read the whole thing here) called the Unconscious Test. Ray thinks, essentially, that people get into the kingdom of heaven because of the essential outworking of their inward nature. If you have experienced true Faith in Christ, your inward nature is forever changed and your outward actions are an expression of that nature. Likewise, if you have not met Christ and experienced this change life through faith in Him, then no matter what you do, no matter what works you accomplish, they will be insufficient because what Christ wants is works that come from a changed nature.
Consider, as Stedman points out, that each group was profoundly surprised at the basis for God’s Judgement. Remember, this is not the seperation of the Good from Evildoers, both of these groups are sure they are following God, they are believers. The sheep, perhaps, thought they would be judged by their faith, and were instead judged by their actions produced from faith. The goats, perhaps, considered they would be judged by their deeds and were instead judged by their faith. How do you see this judgement? Do you agree with Stedman or is there some other dynamic at work here?
What do you think about this statement from Stedman?
Nothing reveals more sharply the radical difference between God’s judging and man’s than this story of the sheep and the goats. Even our treasured “good deeds” are shown up for what they are in the searching light from this throne of glory. Good deeds that are not the unconscious, automatic response of a heart indwelt by Jesus Christ are not truly “good” deeds. They are planned deeds, contrived, carefully performed for the public eye, or if in private, done in the hope that they will purchase some merit or favor before God.
Are only good deeds done in the correct spirit those that God finds acceptable? How can we lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven if we know we are doing it and it does not count?
I think Stedman is on to something here. Jesus said that God wished to be worshiped in spirit and truth. He emphasized that the right things done for the wrong reasons could keep one from the kingdom of heaven. Consider, for example, how he addressed the Pharisees regarding how and why they kept the law. However he also admonished his followers to count the cost of their faith in Him. The Rich Young Ruler was told the cost and was unwilling to pay to Jesus’ great sadness. And then there is this in Matthew 21:28-32:
“What a do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ʻSon, go and work in the vineyard today. ʼ The boy answered, ʻI will not. ʼ But later he had a change of heart and went. The father a went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ʻI will, sir,ʼ but did not go. Which of the two did his fatherʼs will?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God! For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe. Although you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”
How, if at all, does this fit in with Stedman’s thesis? Can there be such a thing as an unwilling but obedient follower?
So back to the question what should Jesus catch us doing when He returns? Being faithful in all things because of the change Christ has made is Stedman’s answer. What’s yours?