Sunday, December 29, 2019

"When Did We See You?" [Matt's Messages]

“When Did We See You?”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
December 29, 2019 :: Matthew 25:31-46

For the last month and a half, we’ve been following Jesus up to the Mount of Olives where He has been teaching His disciples about His return. Chapters 24 and 25 are often called “The Olivet Discourse” because of the location of this teaching, and they are all about Eschatology or the doctrine of Last Things. We often call them the “End Times.” This is Jesus’ most concentrated teaching on the End of the World.

And today we’ve reached the end of that. The end of Jesus’ teaching on the End.

Starting next week, we will continue through the remainder of the crucial events of this Passover Week in the first century when Jesus was crucified.

So what have you learned these last several Sundays as we’ve listened to the Lord Jesus teach about His return?

There has been a lot to it, hasn’t there? There are a lot of facets to this teaching, too many details to repeat this morning.

But all along we have noticed two main things.

One is the identity of Jesus. This is the Gospel of Matthew, after all, so we have to keep our eyes on the ball.

Who is Jesus? He is the Son of Man from the book of Daniel. And the Son of Man is going to come in glory and receive His kingdom at a time known only to the Father.

That’s been important, hasn’t it?

When is Jesus coming back? We don’t know!

Jesus said that we will not know until it happens.

The Son of Man will come at a time when we do not expect it.

He may come earlier than we expect.
He may come later than we expect.

So we have to stay ready.

That’s the second major thing we’ve seen. That Jesus’ focus on eschatology is always a focus mainly on application.

How we are to live in light of His sure and soon but unpredictable return.

We don’t know when, but we sure know Who and because of that we know How to live while we wait.

Jesus has been hammering this point for more than half of this teaching.

He’s been telling us how to live while we wait.

How to, as He says, “Keep watch.”

And He’s told several stories to teach us how to keep watch.

Several parables that feature a group of people who have to be ready for something to happen at an unspecified time.

A thief surprising a homeowner in the night.
A boss returning to check on some employees.
A delayed bridegroom picking up the wedding party to go to the wedding feast.
A master returning from a long journey to reward His good and faithful servants and punish the wicked and lazy ones.

All at time that they did not know.

And so they had to be prepared.
And they had to be patient.
And they had to be busy doing what the master had left for them to do.

Well, Jesus has one more story to tell.

But there aren’t as many story-telling features in this one. It’s not as much of a parable. It’s much more straightforward.

This is basically how it’s going to be.

And this isn’t a story so much about how we don’t know when.

That’s presupposed. Jesus assumes that we’ve gotten that part of this teaching by now. We don’t know when the Son is going to return.

But it is about how we are to live while we wait.

We are to live lives of love in light of the Lord’s return.

Jesus tells one more story. And it’s a story about what happens next.

After the Son of Man comes.

He is coming. Jesus is coming back!

And when He does, this is going to happen:

Like most of Jesus’ stories, this story has a twist. It has a big surprise in it.

In fact, it has two very similar big surprises that you don’t see coming.

But the surprise in this story is not about the timing of Jesus’ return; it is that there have been a number of “Jesus sightings” that the characters in the story didn’t know were “Jesus sightings!”

The whole story turns on this question, “When Did We See You?”

“Lord, when did we see you?”

“Because we didn’t realize we did.”

Matthew 25:31.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 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.” Stop there for just a second.

Do you see how this advances the story? How this is what happens next?

This is not about WHEN will it happen. It’s about what will happen WHEN it happens.

And it’s quite a picture, isn’t it?

All of that glory?  Don’t miss all of this glory!

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and [how many of the angels?] all the angels with him [heaven is going to be emptied, and they will all be there, we can’t imagine this glory!], he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.”

See that glory? Heavenly glory on earth.

This is the “most public event of all time” (O’Donnell).

This is what is sure to happen after the events of chapter 24, verses 29 through 31.

The coming of the Son of Man.

We don’t know when it’s going to happen.

But that it’s going to happen is unquestionable.

The Son of Man will come in (whose glory?) HIS glory.

And what’s He going to sit on? HIS throne. Do you see how this is all about Jesus?

Keep your eye on the ball! Don’t just look for yourself in Jesus’ stories. Look for Jesus. Look at Jesus!

The Son of Man from Daniel 7 has approached the Ancient of Days and has received His kingdom, and now He’s come to bring His Kingdom.

And that involves judgment.

Verse 32 says that some of the nations will be gathered before Him.

No. It says, “All of the nations.” No one escapes. No one gets passed over. It’s not just Israel that will face judgment.

“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.”

Jesus is going to sort out everybody.

He’s said that before, earlier in the Gospel of Matthew. We’ve seen it again and again.

There will be a complete and total sorting. And people will either go on His left or on His right.

Like (this is a simile) a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats.

They might look the same from a distance, but they are not the same. And they go to different places. Perhaps a shepherd separates them to keep them straight or to care for them differently at nighttime. Goats apparently need more warmth because of thinner coats. I think it’s likely that in this story, he is pulling off the sheep to go to pasture and culling off the goats to go to slaughter.

I don’t think we need to read too much into the two different kinds of animals except to note that there are only two.

There are only two kinds of people in the end.

Just like there were two kinds of virgins at the midnight cry, wise and foolish.

And there were two kinds of servants when the master returned, faithful and wicked.

In the end, there are only two kinds of people. The sheep and the goats.

And Jesus knows which is which.

They’ve been together all of this time, but now there is a reckoning, and there is a separating before the Shepherd King.

In the story, the King begins with the people on his right.

And listen to the glorious thing He says to them! V.34

“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.”

Oh! Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

It’s like the last two stories. Those wise bridesmaids entering into the wedding feast.

Or those two faithful servants being given more responsibility and invited to come enjoy the master’s happiness!

We can’t imagine how good this is.

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

That’s what’s coming!

For the sheep.

Now, the sheep did not earn this.

This was done for them long before they even came into existence. “Since the creation of the world!”

It’s an inheritance. That’s something that is given to you based on what family you are in, not something you’ve done. This is a gift from the King’s Father.

The sheep did not earn this.

But it’s only for the sheep. The people who are like the sheep, placed on the Shepherd King’s favored right hand.

But the King knows which ones were to go on the right.

How does the King know? He knows from how they lived. He knows from what He observed in their lives. He knows from the evidence of His eyes. V.35

“For I [the King] 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.”

He knows who they are because of what He saw them do.

They fed Him when He was starving.
They gave Him water when He was dying of thirst.
They gave Him shelter when He was lost.
They gave Him clothes when He was destitute.
They gave Him medical care when He was sick.
They went to see Him when He was in prison.

He knows who they are because of what He saw them do.

So here’s where they ask the question. Because they are surprised by what they have just heard. V.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? 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?”

We don’t remember that part!

They aren’t surprised to be welcomed so much as they are surprised at why.

When did this happen?

When did we see you?

Verse 40. “The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”

So, who are these brothers of the king?

That’s an important question, isn’t it?

Because when these people cared for these brothers of the King, they were caring for the King Himself.

Let me tell you who I think they are.

I think they are simply other Christians who were in real need.

Good Bible scholars have had various takes on this in the history of the church.

Some people think that these brothers of Jesus are Jews, Jesus’ brothers according to the flesh. And that’s possible.

And some people think that these brothers of the King are just anybody in need. And that makes some sense, too. I don’t think we’re supposed to narrow this down and say, “We are only supposed to help Christians who are in need. Nobody else need apply!”

But in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has said again and again that His true family are His disciples (ex.12:47-50). And He’s said that His disciples, as they go out on their mission to make more disciples, are going to encounter trouble.

Remember the Birth Pains in the last chapter?

“You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophet swill appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and the end will come” (24:9-14)

Sounds like trouble to me.

And if you help someone like that in their trouble...you are helping Jesus.

Notice that it doesn’t just say, “These brothers of mine.”

The King says, “the least of these brothers of mine.”

The people who are the least glorious.
The least powerful.
The least attractive.
The least able to pay you back.

The least able to scratch your back.

If you help them, you are helping Jesus.

That doesn’t mean that those people are literally Jesus in disguise.

It means that they belong to Jesus in such a way that if you hurt them, you are basically hurting Him. And if you help them, then you are basically helping Him.

We are His Body, are we not?

So when you love Jesus’ Body, you are loving Jesus.

That’s quite a thought, isn’t it?

By the way, there is a hidden message here about how much Jesus loves us.

Jesus loves you and me so much that He identifies with us.

So that when you or I are hungry, or thirsty, or lost, or destitute, or locked up, Jesus is right there with us.

So that if anyone helps you or me, they are helping Jesus.

We often think about ourselves as a sheep or a goat in this story (and we should), but sometimes we need also to realize that we could be the least of the King’s family.

And the King loves us so much that when we hurt, it hurts Him so to speak.

And when we are helped, He says, “Thanks for helping Me!” 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”

That’s how the King can tell who goes on the right.

They acted like a person who goes on the right.

They acted sheep-like! Not sheep-ish but sheep-like.

And they weren’t play-acting. They weren’t doing this to get brownie points.

This folks are not trying to impress the Lord with their good works.

They are just doing good works because of the people they have become.

They are given the kingdom because they are obviously kingdom citizens!

They were not earning the kingdom, because you cannot earn the kingdom (unless you are the King).

They weren’t even trying. They were just living out the values of the kingdom, and the King couldn’t help but notice.

These actions were the genuine evidence of a genuinely transformed life.

And we know that because of how unselfconscious they were about it.

“When did we see you? When did we do that?”

“Well, you didn’t see Me, but I was there. And I saw you.”

But the opposite was also true. And these are scary and sobering words. Verse 41.

“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 [same question], '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, 'I tell you the truth, 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.”

Same story but the opposite way around.

These people saw the same followers of Christ in the same desperate situations, and they didn’t lift a finger to help.

They claimed to love Jesus or at least to call Him, “Lord,” but they had nothing of the sheep about them. They were actually goats.

They were fakes, weren’t they?

If they had known that these actions were the ones that would open the door of the kingdom to them, then they would have done those actions and those alone.

They failed the hypocrisy test. They were fakes. And we know how Jesus feels about fakes!

Jesus already taught on this at the end of His Sermon on the Mount.

He said, “[B]y their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

You didn’t help my family when you weren’t getting any publicity for it.

You might have racked up some public “ministry,” but your sins of omission told the real story.

“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire that [wasn’t originally made for humans, but humans have insisted on getting into it, the eternal fire] prepared for the devil and his angels.” To eternal punishment.

No second chances. The door is shut. The decision is final. And it is forever.

So that’s how Jesus ends His teaching on His return.

What should we make of it?

How should we apply it to our lives in the last few days of 2019?

I thought of three:

#1. REJOICE! THE LORD IS COMING!

We can’t miss this glorious fact, that the Son of Man is coming in His glory and is going to set everything right.

Everything in the world is going to be set aright.

He will judge justly!

Everything will be returned to the way it should be.

And He shall reign.

“He will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.”

That should thrill our hearts.

We’ve been singing it the last several weeks for its 300rd birthday:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare Him room, and heav’n and nature sing!

No more like sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

Rejoice! The Lord is coming in His glory with all of His angels!

And for His people, He says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

That’s every reason to rejoice!

I can’t hardly wait.

Jesus tells us His disciples all of this to whet the longings of our hearts for His return and His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Rejoice! The Lord is coming!

#2. REPENT. THE LORD IS COMING!

The second half of this prophetic story is scary.

And it invites all who hear it to repent of their lovelessness.

To repent of selfishness.

To repent of fakeness and hypocrisy.

To turn away from sin and trust in the Savior.

Because you don’t become a sheep by doing sheep things.

You become a sheep by turning from being a goat and being transformed into a sheep.

You become a sheep by the Lord changing your heart.

The passage doesn’t say how to change. The rest of the Bible does.

In fact, the very next chapter of Matthew is going to show us what it took for us to be saved. The New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.

But this story shows us our need for change. Our need for repentance.

Our need for a transformation from the inside out all the way to our actions.

And if we don’t, then we can see what happens next.

“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...Then they will go away to eternal punishment.”

Repent. The Lord is coming!

#3. RESPOND. THE LORD IS COMING!

And by this, I mean respond in love to the needs of struggling Christians around you.

Show mercy, show compassion.

Care, help, serve, love.

Feed them.
Give them water.
Invite them in.
Clothe them.
Nurse them.
Visit them.

This list in verses 35 and 36 is not exhaustive. These are examples of ways that genuine loving Christians can help genuine hurting Christians.

See a need and respond in love.

Because the point of this story is not to see Jesus in needy people, but to serve Jesus as you serve needy people, especially Christians because we are Jesus’ family.

Galatians 6:10 says, “[A]s we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Not to earn our salvation, but to live it out.

This is what faith looks like in action.

It looks like love.

That’s the last thing that Jesus wants to share with His disciples in His teaching on eschatology.

The Lord is coming.

The Son of Man is coming at a time when we do not expect Him.

And so we need to keep watch.

Expectantly.
Patiently.
Busily.

Doing the things that He left for us to do.

And here He names them.

Feed them.
Give them water.
Invite them in.
Clothe them.
Nurse them.
Visit them.

Show mercy, show compassion.

Care, help, serve, love.

Respond in love to the needs of struggling Christians.

Serve in love while you wait for the return of Christ.

Because He’s coming in all of His glory and He will invite us to come and enjoy that glory, that blessing, the blessing of His father, His inheritance, the kingdom prepared for us since the creation of the world...eternal life!


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Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith
48. These Little Ones
49. If Your Brother Sins Against You
50. The Lord of Marriage
51. Drop Everything
52. First and Last
53. The Suffering Serving Son of Man
54. Shouting for the Son of David
55. Expecting Fruit
56. Come to the Wedding Banquet
57. Whose Image?
58. Acing the Test
59. What Do You Think About the Christ?
60. How Not To be A Leader
61. Malignant Religion
62. Fakes and Snakes
63. Birth Pains
64. The Coming of the Son of Man
65. No One Knows
66. Keep Watch
67. Well Done!

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