How to serve Jesus – Matthew 25:34-40

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. 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,[f] you did it to me.’

I believe this passage has a special application pertaining to the nations’ treatment of the Jews in the days leading up to Christ’s return.  Still, pretty much all passages of Scripture have some sort of application for us today.  This one may be applicable in all places and at all times, except for some hypothetical place where no one is poor, needy, sick, etc.  I’m not sure where that might be.  

The other day, I was reading in Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.  Though a professed agnostic, this sociologist of religion quoted the passage above and went on to explain how the early church put it into practice.

[Ancient] Pagan and Christian writers are unanimous not only that Christian Scripture stressed love and charity as the central duties of faith, but that these were sustained in everyday behavior … When the New Testament was new, these were the norms of Christian communities. (Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 86-87)

They should still be the norms today – helping the poor, the needy, the sick and those in prison  They probably are, for the most part, at least among Christians that I know,.  I’m happy to be pastor of a church where all of these behaviors are normal.  But still, let’s keep doing these things until Jesus comes.  When we serve those in need he says we are serving him.

Matthew 24 Verse by Verse

Matt photoThe extended teaching known as the Olivet Discourse is one of the Bible’s most important pertaining to end times prophecy.  In it Christ reminds to always be watching for him.  He is coming and we do not know when.

Matthew 24.pdf

Matthew 24.mp3

A Prayer Prompted by Matthew 24

Heavenly Father,

Jesus warned us that many will be deceived by false signs and false Christs prior to his actual coming.  Please protect us from every form of spiritual deception.

Help us not to fear as we continuously hear of wars and rumors of wars, political turmoil, famines, earthquakes, and increasing troubles of various kinds.  We understand that these things must be, but they do not mean that the end is here, or even that it is near enough for us to see it.

On the other hand, help us to always be watchful, because our Lord is returning for us at a time that we do not know and will not expect.

He might even come today, so help us to always be ready.

In Christ’s name,

Amen.

 

Always be ready – Matthew 24:36-44

In this passage, part of Christ’s Olivet Discourse, Jesus makes a vital point for us.  We must always be ready for his return.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

I have personally and unscientifically observed two common and unfortunate responses to the thought that Jesus can come back at any moment. 

One is to go completely overboard in end times enthusiasm.  I remember years ago having to comfort a man whose wife had died.  Grief is hard.  His was made worse by the conviction that he and his wife, who were not young, were both going to live to see the rapture of the church.  He has since died as well.  No rapture.

The other unfortunate response, perhaps egged on by views like the one above, is to decide that Bible prophecy is so difficult, obscure or controversial that it’s not worth paying it any attention.  This seems to be more common at present, but it directly contradicts Jesus’ point.

Whether one believes this passage from Matthew is talking about the rapture or not (I personally think it is, which I know is a minority view), Christ wants us to be ready.  He wants us to stay awake (v.42), be ready (v.44) and to watch (Matt 25:13).

The fact that we cannot know when Jesus is coming is not a motivator to not care when he will return.  I believe this tension and lack of clarity regarding his return is designed to keep us always watchful.  Every generation of Christians has every reason to believe that Jesus can come during their lifetime, but we can never be sure that he will.  

Therefore we must always be ready.  Let’s repeat that.

44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus!

A Prayer Prompted by Matthew 23

Heavenly Father,

By listening to Jesus we learn that there is a great danger in hypocritical religion.  The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of it then, but many besides them have been guilty of it too. Many are still guilty of it now.

In response we ask you to please show us where the practice of our faith does not measure up to your standards.  Transform our hearts so that we become people who are inwardly pure.  Let our love for you and for others cause us to grieve over sin and truly fear the day of your coming judgment.

And let us always be prepared and eagerly waiting for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In his name,
Amen.

What’s inside? – Matthew 23:27-28

As Jesus cuts into the religious hypocrites of his day, one of the “woes” he pronounces on them is this:

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

It’s a graphic picture.  Rotting corpses lying behind clean, newly painted, white outer walls.  The smells of fresh paint and decomposition combine in an oddly unpleasant mixture.  We might only wish the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus referred to were the only ones ever to be found guilty as charged.  

Unfortunately, as long as there shall be religion in a fallen world, we can count on the existence of religious hypocrisy.  If the world, the flesh and the devil can’t get us to fall headlong into sin and drown, they will keep trying to find something for us to dip our toes in when no one is looking.  It may be some secret dishonesty or indiscretion.  It may be a smug self-satisfaction that we are not as evil as someone else.  It doesn’t matter what the rottenness is caused by, it only matters that it is there.

The starting point in reversing the process is simple honesty that hypocrisy is real, wicked, and consistently knocking at our door.  Basic honesty with ourselves and others removes the need for religious hypocrisy and is almost already its opposite.  We don’t have to clean up the outside to impress anyone and the inside will not deteriorate beyond a certain point.  The Holy Spirit, if he dwells within, will see to it.

It’s the confessing sinner that is able to repent of sin and the humble servant that can somehow live with an outward flaw.  Hypocrisy is an obstacle in the way of genuine spiritual growth.  The highway toward true holiness has many off-ramps that lead to hypocrisy.  We need to be sure not to take any of them.  When our inside and outside are in harmony, both trending toward a Christlike end, all is well.  One day we shall be inwardly and outwardly pure.