Matthew 25:35-40 is a text social justice folks mention in hopes of mobilizing people who are apathetic about the needs of others. These verses, I’ve observed, are quoted most often when talking about reaching into the heart of a broken city … a broken-hearted city like my own – Richmond, Virginia.
Take a look at the New Living Translation’s version: 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ 37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
The words of Jesus.
Rarely are these words … His words … quoted in the context of judgment, but that is in fact what Christ was talking about. Take a look: 31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his 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 creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty … etc.
Maybe the most startling statement Jesus makes when preaching this sermon is verse 46. It certainly is to me: 46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
He talks about separating the “sheep and the goats.” According to Jesus, when He comes to judge the world, the righteous (the sheep on His right) and the unrighteous (the goats in His left) will be assigned their place in eternity.
I gathered from reading Michael J. Wilkins’ commentary on Matthew the following: Jesus had given some clues about the events that would accompany His return (24:4-35), and then He taught lessons about watching, waiting, and being prepared for His second coming (His “first coming” being His birth in Bethlehem, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection). Those lessons (24:36-25:30) include the parable about the homeowner and the thief, the parable about 2 kinds of servants (faithful and unfaithful), the parable of the 10 virgins (prepared and unprepared), and the parable of the talants (productive and unproductive).
When Jesus talked about sheep and goats He was talking about followers of God verses people living independent of God. He made clear there was a reward for followers and punishment for the independent. What is really cool is the surprised reaction of the sheep – those who would be rewarded: “Lord, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, being a stranger, naked, sick or imprisoned” (the last two categories found in the other Gospels).
The Lord was referring to Isaiah 58:6-10, where God declares that true righteousness (right with God, right living, right motives) is displayed by caring for the needy.
But NEVER does Jesus in the New or God in the Old Testaments indicate that acts of mercy and kindness lead to salvation and eternal life! Jesus was clear about that, and Paul made sure the people that received his letters were totally informed. One example of Paul’s teaching is found in Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
Jesus was very clear: acts of mercy and kindness are evidences that the sheep are already righteous! The surprise of the sheep indicates that these acts of mercy and kindness were not intentional meritorious acts to gain access and entrance to the Kingdom of God, but were evidence that the sheep belonged to the Kingdom.
In light of my previous blog (“It’s Time” – October 11, 2011), I’ve been thinking long and hard about the motivation behind acquiring a specially-equipped truck, with all the bells and whistles and amenities. I’ve come to a point where I’m asking myself, “Does it need to be ‘perfect’ before I begin to do what God is calling me to do? Does the step-van/food truck need to come first – before I’ll venture out into the unknown?”
So … would anyone in the Richmond area consider joining me in an experiment. First, prayer – asking for God to lead us. Second, doing some “prayer-trips” around the city, looking for the places where needy folks are currently NOT being served by those already involved in such projects and ministries. I think then, thirdly, it will be time to put a few propane burners in the back of my pickup, some previously prepared soup that we can warm up when we’re on location, something to serve coffee, some good water, along with cups, bowls and spoons.
What say you?
I don’t think that it comes as a surprise to us today that people coming in contact with the unique Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, were amazed by Him. The miracle worker, healer, and teacher extraordinaire consistently amazed the crowds. Here’s one example. In Matthew 7:28-29 you’ll read, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
But this is a stunner: on two occasions the Bible says that Jesus was amazed! That’s right, Jesus was amazed … as in astonished, astounded, shocked, surprised, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, staggered, and the always brilliant Shakespearian King James version … taken aback!
Have you ever pictured Jesus with a stunned look on His face? A look that says, “Wow!”
Look at Mark 6. (Second book in the New Testament, sixth chapter)
1 Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed.
There it is again. People were amazed … even in His hometown of Nazareth.
“Where did this Man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. (Matthew 13:58 says, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”) 6 And He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Jesus was amazed! He was amazed at their lack of faith.
How you view Jesus will dramatically effect your confidence in Him, your beliefs about God and truth (Jesus claimed God was His Father, and that He – Jesus – was the Truth), and your opinions on miracles and healing (did they, and can they happen in real life?). Your perspective of the Carpenter of Nazareth will, according to Jesus Himself, determine whether or not you have a soul-saving, life-changing relationship with His Father (John 14:1-14).
The people in Nazareth saw Jesus as ORDINARY! No one special. They were familiar with Jesus. He was just one of the guys. Just one of Mary’s children. A carpenter … and the son of an ordinary carpenter. So …
What do expect from ORDINARY? What do you expect from a carpenter’s son? (Furniture … or maybe farm equipment?)
Here’s a lesson in human nature: The tendency is that if you grow up with someone, and you compare them to your ordinary self, you’ll tend to expect little of them … or yourself, or your peers. That’s why all of us are surprised when one of the gang makes it big. All of us are surprised when someone we perceive as “like us” does something beyond us.
And that’s when our ego responds. Psychologically … we get offended … and the reason we do is because the peer that rises above us brings awareness to our lack of accomplishment. Because we’re in the habit of comparing ourselves with ourselves and our peers and our relatives … when someone outdoes us, selfish-humankind that we are – we get offended.
And why do we do that? Because we’re made to feel small in our own eyes. The Greek word here for “offended” means “to be repelled because of unmet expectations.” (The Nazarenes had low expectations of Jesus – so they were repelled by Jesus’ wisdom, His teaching, and His power to perform miracles!)
Jesus was amazed one other time in His life. Take a look at this (Luke 7 – third book in the New Testament, seventh chapter):
1 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to Him, asking Him to come and heal His servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Him, “This man deserves to have You do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Him: “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, for I do not deserve to have You come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Because the Centurion grasped WHO Jesus was … and that all the power of heaven was behind Him … and because the Centurion understood that Jesus had power in and of Himself (!!) … he knew that all Jesus had to do was COMMAND the sickness to leave his servant’s body – and it would be done!
The Centurion recognized that Jesus had power. The Nazarenes thought Jesus was ordinary.
The Centurion recognized that Jesus had authority. The Nazarenes thought Jesus was “upity.”
The Centurion recognized that faith in Jesus was the key. The Nazarenes thought their disbelief was the smart (or safe) position to take.
So … Who do you have more in common with, the Centurion or the Nazarenes? Are you willing to stand alone, with confidence in Jesus? Or must you stand with the crowd where it’s safe? Taken to the extreme: Is Jesus God in the flesh, the Savior of the World … or was He another insane false messiah?
Think about it.
I like seeing a fresh coat of paint on things, so I thought I’d give this birdbath that we have on our deck a nice coat just a few weeks ago. The problem was … is … rather than taking a wire brush or sandpaper to it, I just spray painted over the old paint. I got lazy.
Now that it has been out in the weather for a few weeks – in the rain and the heat – I am starting to see little flecks … the imperfections and bubbles that indicate that the rust didn’t go away on its own. There’s evidence the “cover-up” didn’t work. I know that it’s only a matter of time before I’m going to have to paint again!
Isn’t that a good snapshot of how most of us have lived since we decided to become a Christ follower? You know, content to just spray-paint over rust? We … me included … just sprayed a coat of religion over our old selves and called it good.
If you did what I did, we were just kidding ourselves. Since then we’ve learned, haven’t we, that we can go to church, sing the songs, say “God bless you,” think we’re okay … maybe even righteous … but … WHEN stuff begins to happen … real life … when someone rubs us the wrong way, or says something we don’t like – suddenly that coat of paint begins to chip off and the real person underneath the cosmetic cover rises to the surface and attacks back.
The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, that we need to let Christ sand us way down to the bear metal, in order to cover us with His way of thinking and acting.
Shouldn’t there be a difference between a person who says they are a Christ-follower and a person who is not following Christ? When somebody … you or me, for example … chooses to do life God’s way, shouldn’t our lives look and sound like He is the primary Influencer of our thoughts, attitudes and actions?
According to Paul, there should be a stark, even sobering difference between those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus, the Savior, and us! But how do we go about the daily business of living for Jesus?
Here’s what Paul wrote (Ephesians 4:17-31):
17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against Him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from Him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.
25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, He has identified you as His own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Have you ever noticed how many times the Scriptures tell us that if we want Jesus to transform our lives we must allow Him to transform our minds? Read it for yourself in Romans 8:7 – “That the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God.” The mind is the battle-ground for our actions – for how we live. Our constant challenge is found in Colossian 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
If we are committed to living a Christ-centered life, then we must make a choice to surrender our mind, our thought-life, our decision-making processes to God. We don’t “dumb down.” Christ-followers change their minds. And for our minds to change we must make a decision. In verse 17 of Ephesians 4 it says, “Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.” We are asked to make a decision. We are being encouraged to not only make a decision to love Jesus … but to live for Him as well.
You do realize that even the devil believes in Jesus? Wrap your mind around THAT! In fact, Satan is smart enough to tremble at the mention of His name while many people take His name in vain, or use it as a curse.
Believing in Jesus is not enough. Our belief of Him and in Him should lead us to make a decision that WE WILL CHANGE! WE MUST CHANGE!
The source of our changed life is God’s power let loose in us (vs. 23), but the goal of a changed life is the positive way we treat each other. How we care for and treat others is a measure of living a life of love … living a life for Jesus. Remember, He said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.”
Our lifestyle is supposed to be “living proof” that we love Jesus.
Think about that!
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name – Mark Twain – is one of the most beloved authors and humorists in America’s history. He wrote some classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and more.
I found a great story about Mark Twain at the SermonCentral website. The story goes that Twain “… loved to go fishing, but he hated to catch fish. The problem was he went fishing to relax, and catching fish ruined his relaxation, since he had to take the fish off the hook and do something with it. When he wanted to relax by doing nothing, people thought he was lazy, but if he went fishing he could relax all he wanted. People would see him sitting by the river bank and they would say, ‘Look, he’s fishing, don’t bother him.’
“So Mark Twain had the perfect solution: he would take a fishing pole, line, and a bobber, but he wouldn’t put a hook on the end. He would cast the bobber in the water and lay back on the bank. That way he could relax all he wanted and he would be bothered neither by man nor fish.
“Mark Twain is like a lot of Christians I know. They have their pole in the water, but there is no hook on the end. They are not fishing; they are relaxing.
“Do you think this is what Jesus had in mind when He said, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’? (Matthew 4:19)”
By the way … Mark Twain didn’t speak well of organized religion, hated hypocrisy (especially when it was evidenced in his own life), and thought the Christians of his day were not representing Jesus at all. He once said, “If Christ were here now there is one thing He would not be – a Christian.”
Think about that for a minute.
Now that you’ve thought about it, if you claim to be a Christ-follower, are you good at it? Does that claim make your life different … better, more loving, compassionate, generous, and concerned about the eternal impact your life has on others? Do you look like Jesus in any way (and I’m not talking about robes and sandals)? Do you sound like Him? Good questions, aren’t they?
If you aren’t a follow of Jesus Christ, consider this: Jesus didn’t come to this world to create a religion or philosophy. He came to build a bridge to God, His Father. He came to make it possible for us to have a close and eternal relationship with God … something God wanted! Jesus was crucified by the people of His day, not just because He was so different, or that He pointed the religious people of His day as hypocrites. His death on the Cross was part of God’s plan to save Mankind from a lost, God-less eternity … and to give us LIFE, here, and now.
Think about that for a minute.
Now … what are you thinking?
The Bridge. A new name, a new vision, a new pastor, a new approach to ministry, a new congregation. By the way … I’m that new pastor. I took the position in October, and it’s been great! I love the people – “the survivors” is what I call the folks who made it through the turbulence of transition from former pastor/former church to new pastor/new vision.
Maybe you noticed the logo caption. We, the people at The Bridge, want to be a bridge to Jesus. We will never change the message! It’s Jesus Christ, the Lord, Son of God, born of a virgin, lived in Palestine, taught disciples, was crucified, dead, buried and RISEN! And coming King!
While we’re orthodox in our beliefs we will tend to be unorthodox in our approach to reaching out to the “dechurched” and the “unchurched.”
Matt Chandler (Google Matt, and look for him on You Tube as well) describes the dechurched as people who attended church when they were younger (pre- and even post-adolescence) but, for a ton of reasons, decided church wasn’t their thing.
I’ve come to the conclusion, after years of observation myself, that the dechurched may have thought attending church was pointless, irrelevant, dead/lifeless, populated by hypocrites, and constantly wanting more and more money. The dechurched may have been hurt in a plethora of ways while attending church, and they’ve decided, “Who needs this!?” Unfortunately, they may have seen hypocrisy in their own home and decided, “Why go to the trouble of going to church on Sunday morning when there are better things to do?”
The dechurched, after years of wandering the planet, wondering if there is a personal God that’s as sick of “church” as they are, believing that Jesus Christ is who He said He was, and investigating every spiritual nook and cranny there is have finally decided, “If I can find a group of REAL Christ-followers – authentic, transparent, loving, kind, other-centric, missional and more – I’ll check it out. If I can find a group of Christ-followers who are honest about their imperfections and don’t make excuses for their misbehavior (they actually ask for forgiveness and want to make things right), I might check it out. If I can find a diverse congregation that does not try to be politically correct but (instead) tries to love each other the way Martin Luther King dreamed, I might check it out.”
It is my hope that The Bridge will be all those things! I want to hang out with people like those I described above. I want to build relationships with honest-to-God and authentic people who get the Gospel, believe it, and want to live in a community that looks and sounds a lot like Jesus if He were living here, and now.
Sounds idealistic? Sounds impossible? I don’t care what it sounds like – this is the vision I have for The Bridge. Before my life is over I want to be with a group of people who want to do “Church” the way Jesus intended it to be.
Give me some feedback! What did I leave out of my vision. That’s an honest question. I want to know.