A Sheep or a Goat?

sheep and goat

If I was picking, I’d rather be a goat than a sheep.  Goats are more curious and independent; they don’t need as much shepherding.  They appear smarter; free thinkers if you will.  Goat’s eat more than grass, and have better hair days, too!

But when Jesus chose his last metaphor to describe his eminent return, he said that one day he will sit on his throne and he will separate all the nations like a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats.  (Read Matthew 25:31-47.)  The sheep will be on his right side – the side associated with the right arm of strength and blessing.  The goats are on the left side, the side associated with the boot.  On second thought, I’d rather be a sheep.

Jesus has always had a thing for sheep.   “I am the good shepherd,” he said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10:14-15) Sheep know him.  They recognize his voice. (Jn 10:16)

 Jesus said his sheep recognize him…

in the thirsty man who needs a drink
in the hungry woman who needs to eat
in the stranger who needs a place to stay
in the child who is cold and needs a coat
in the sick friend sitting through chemo
in the prisoner, marking time in a cell

…and then show mercy and compassion to him!  Sheep may seem dense, but they see what others can’t see!  The sheep belong to the shepherd; they have his very mind (I Cor 2:16), so they can see him in other people.  The sheep are beholden to their shepherd.  They love him, follow him and serve him.  He keeps the wolf out (Jn 10:11-12); he makes them lie down in green pastures, he leads them beside quiet waters; he restores their soul. (Ps. 23)

Jesus, on his beloved mountain side, to his closest friends, on his way to the cross, concludes this Olivet discourse with some pretty practical advice.   I’m leaving, he said, but my Spirit is staying.  Look for me.  Listen for my voice.  Stay with the flock.  Give me a drink and some bread, invite me in, put clothes on my back, look after me when I’m sick; visit me when I’m in bondage.

Friends, Jesus is a good shepherd.  He loves you.  He won’t let you get away.  Let’s stick together and serve our master until he takes us home!

Resolute Risk

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If you’re like me, you’ve given up on New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you have some goals, but let’s be real, you just don’t want to be resolute about them. If they happen, great, but you don’t want the pressure of commitment and it seems nobler not to fail. Innate in us is a collective “maintenance” resolution. Let’s just not let things get any worse than they are right now. Comfort and safety. Good ole American ideals.

Jesus said life in the Kingdom of God does not operate that way. Comfort and safety are replaced with risking all.   Faith and trust are paramount. These concepts are part of Jesus’ last teaching on the way to the cross in Matthew 24 and 25. We know the story as the parable of the talents. (Read Matthew 25:14-30.)

Jesus has been talking about his return; he’s about to lay down his life, rise again, and ascend to the Father, but he will come back, and we won’t know the day or the hour. He’s using stories to teach his disciples and us how to live in the meantime. The ten virgins taught us to know the bridegroom and to be there when he returns. The three servants teach us to invest in the growing kingdom of God.

Sometimes, we think kingdom living is mostly about getting all the doctrine and theology right. We’re so afraid of getting something wrong that we’re afraid to do anything at all! We just keep reading and re-reading the manual, and don’t get out into the game! Jesus said to put his words into practice (Mt 7:24), to go and proclaim the kingdom (Mt 10:7), to take what you’ve been given and put it to work!   God’s been saying it from the very beginning, “Be fruitful and multiply!” (Ge 1:22)

Being ready for Jesus’ return is not a numbers game. He’s not going to line you up and count your money nor the number of people you have baptized. What he will do is examine your heart.   Will he see faith? “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance,” Jesus said. (25:29) Have you trusted him with what you have? Have you listened? Have you done what he’s told you, specifically, to do when he’s told you to do it? Have you been willing to take risks when asked? Have you been certain of what you could not see, despite your doubts?

There’s not a flow chart. Some get a little to work with; some get a lot. Only together are we the body, moved by the head, Jesus himself, to accomplish His purposes for the sake of the world and for the glory of God.  Does that make you uncomfortable? Good.  Discomfort and risk. Good ole Kingdom ideals.

Advent

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We are in a season of Advent.  Expectant waiting.  It’s an exciting time!  Preparations are made.  Presents are wrapped.  Menus are planned.  Travel arrangements are put into action.  The month of December passes relatively quickly, yet it’s meant to remind us of the long wait of God’s people for their Messiah.  “How long will you hide your face from us?” the psalmist put to music the heart cry of Israel.  When he finally came, Jesus’ entry, in the humble form of a peasant babe, was surprising to say the least!

As Jesus prepared to leave the earth, he alluded to another long wait. (Matthew 25:1-13) He will return, he said, but we will not know the day or the hour.   He launched another season of Advent, one in which we are still expectantly waiting.

A Jewish wedding feast was worth the wait, an all out celebration!  The custom dictated that a groom and his friends would leave his home in a processional to the home of the bride where the marriage ceremony would take place, often at night.  The entire party would travel back to the home of the groom where a celebratory feast ensued.  Jesus told the story of ten girls waiting for a wedding party to arrive.  Because it was very late at night, they fell asleep while waiting and their lamps ran out of oil.    The five who had planned ahead and had extra oil, relit their lamps, went to meet the bridegroom and went into the feast with the entourage.  The five who did not plan ahead, had to rush to town to buy more oil and missed out on the party!

The crux of the story is the plea these less prepared five made to the bridegroom, “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!”  But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”  These words were reminiscent of words in another famous sermon of Jesus. 

The disciples would surely remember…“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one 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 in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’  (Matthew 7:21-23)

Some of the last words Jesus gave to his beloved disciples were to “Keep watch!”  Our admonition is the same.  Observe Advent.  Wait with expectation!  Anticipate the arrival.  Be ready, not by adding good deeds to your repertoire, but by just being present, in relationship with the groom.  Knowing Jesus is the key. 

As beautiful as it is to remember his infant entrance into the world this time of year, he longs for you to receive him as Savior and Lord, the greatest gift of grace you will ever receive!  To know and be known is the greatest desire of every human being.  Jesus knows you completely and longs to be known by you.  He left his own Spirit for you, the deepest part of Him.  He’s revealed himself in numerous love letters, right at your fingertips.  May you dive into the greatest love story of your life this holiday season and for the rest of your days!  Spend time with Him.  Talk to him.  Listen.  He’s prepared a place for you at His table.  Be ready.  The celebration will be well worth the wait!

A Special Place

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I have a special place, a mountainside in New Mexico.  I’ve thought a lot there.  I’ve prayed and communed with God in unique ways there.   Important transitional events in my life are marked there.  God revealed the way I should go forth from there.  Community was formed and still exists because of my time there.  My daughter has met God there too.  My son was baptized by my husband on that mountain, in the icy cold stream that runs through it.  A special place indeed.  If I had to choose one place to leave my final words, it would be on this mountainside, surrounded by the people I cherish most.

I love the scholarly title of Jesus’ last long speech recorded in the gospel of Matthew.  It’s called the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25).  That means that he spoke these final words at his special place, the Mount of Olives, to his peeps, his cherished disciples.  Perhaps, this was no accident.

The Mount of Olives overlooks the Temple Mount and the city of Jerusalem.  The Kidron Valley divides these two mounts.  Many private gardens were found here, as gardens were not allowed in Jerusalem proper during Jesus’ day.  Perhaps it was a beautiful respite.  Jesus often found refuge and rest there, a place to commune with his Father in prayer.  (Lk 21:37, Jn 8:1)  He frequently gathered with his community, his disciples, on this hillside to regroup and commission.  (Mk 13:3)  Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem would be from this mount. (Mk 11:1)  He would anguish in prayer before his crucifixion in a garden at the foot of this mount.  (Lk 22:39)  His ascension into heaven was from the top of this mount. (Acts 1:12)   A special place indeed.

As Matthew 24 commences, Jesus’ disciples were confused.  Jesus was preparing them for the events that were about to transpire, but they still didn’t understand that he would die, raise back to life, and then ascend to the Father.  The kingdom he spoke of was still ambiguous, at best. The temple, across the valley, was still God’s dwelling place, in their minds.  Little did they know, He would soon make his home inside each of them.  They asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Mt. 24:3)

Have you ever felt like that?  “Jesus, just tell me what’s going to happen and when this will all make sense.  Give me a sign.”  They asked the right person.  He gave them some specific answers, but I wonder how much they really understood?  As hard as it is for us to make sense of the details (I will leave the bulk of this chapter to your own interpretation), I think the disciples were even more confused, and emotionally stressed out! 

Jesus understood.  I think his most encouraging words were, “But concerning the day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only…Therefore stay awake, for you don’t know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Mt 24:36,42)  Jesus essentially said, “Look guys, I don’t even know.  Let’s stay awake, and watch and wait together.” Jesus, was listening and waiting for his Father’s direction to lead him to the cross, out of the tomb, and back to heaven.  He’ll just as patiently wait for his direction to come back to the earth, in the manner and timing of the Father’s choosing.   From his special hillside, Jesus encouraged his close friends with practical advice.

He follows with three simple stories to show his followers and us today how to watch and wait for Jesus’ return, as we follow our Lord and Savior in the meantime.  As we close out the year, we’ll reflect on these stories.

The Olivet Discourse.  Specially chosen last words from a very special place.  The last words of instruction by Jesus on his way to the cross.  Perhaps we should hang on every word.

Do We Really Have to Forgive?

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Tit for tat.  It’s the American way.  I work for you, you pay.  You hit my car, you pay.  You hurt me, you pay.  You take something that’s mine, you pay.   You cheat me, you pay.     We are an individualistic society so the center of every dispute is the individual.  We want what is fair, for the person wronged, especially ourselves.

When Jesus finished up his discourse on community life with his closest followers in Matthew 18, it seemed to ruffle Peter’s feathers a bit.  Read Matthew 18: 21-35.  “Wait a minute…” you can almost hear him say, “Community life is hard.  Surely I don’t have to deal with difficult people forever.  Let’s simplify this.  Just tell me how many times I have to forgive my brother.  Surely seven times would be a good, Scriptural number.”

Jesus must have chuckled.  “Not seven, but seventy-seven.” (More like to infinity and beyond my friend!)  Then, in typical Jesus fashion, he puts this in words that his followers, to include Peter, can understand.  He tells them a story. 

Basically, one man owes his master what it would take 20 years of working every single day to repay, a lifetime of work for a Galilean fisherman.  The man knows that he cannot possible repay this, but he begs for more time to try to work and pay it off.  The master takes pity, compassionately empathizes with the man, and goes from ordering him to be thrown in prison to canceling the debt for good, and letting him go free.   Jaws would have dropped, for this was an extravagant act of mercy.

Then, Jesus continues, this same forgiven man goes out and demands one day’s worth of wages from a man who owes him this measly amount.  The forgiven man refuses to forgive, and instead throws the poor man in prison until he can repay his small debt.  This would have seemed outrageous to Jesus’ audience!  How could that man do such a thing?!

So the original merciful master, the one who had been so compassionate and forgiving, hears of what has happened and is outraged!  He harshly rebukes the man who refused to forgive.   He takes back what he said, and throws the first man into prison to be tortured until he can pay back every cent he owes!

“This,” Jesus said, “is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

What it boils down to, friends, is that forgiveness is God’s prerogative.   We want it to be fair, but our perspective is skewed.  We’re the sinners.  We’re the ones that brought shame to the reflective image of a perfect God when sin commenced.  He restored honor to his name by canceling the debt we owed but could never, in a million years of trying, repay.  He scorned the shame of sin on the cross, his way!  He cancelled the magnanimous debt, himself, in the form of Jesus Christ.  What was left was a family of believing recipients, adopted children, living together now as a collective unit, no longer individual entities.  He left his own Spirit to convict and transform each person so that together, they would form a collective whole, his very body, the church, for His glory!   We die to ourselves in God’s economy.  Our life is now hidden with Christ in God. 

Individualistic societies care about what is fair for each individual.  Collectivist societies don’t function this way.  The center of the dispute is the family unit, and honor for the family name takes precedent over what is fair for each person individually.  As honor bearers for our Father, forgiven beyond measure, we accept abundant grace so that it overflows from a receptive heart to others around us.  Forgiveness is God’s way.  As ambassadors, we are the forgiving ones.  We’re debt free, so we invite others to live debt free alongside us!

Lighten up, Peter.  You’re going to be forgiving for a very long time!

The Gift of Community

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15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have
gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be
established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[f
] in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Matthew 18:15-20

We are entering the Christmas season, a season of giving and good will, a reflection of the great gift of God to mankind when he incarnated himself in the form of a baby, Jesus, and took up residence on earth. This gift, however, kept on and keeps on giving.

Not only did Jesus grow up to pay the penalty for sin that every sinner deserves, a vile death on a cross, but he rose again and punctuated every example and teaching that he lovingly gave to all who would follow him. He proclaimed good news to the poor and oppressed.   He healed and set people free!   He left part of his divine self, the Holy Spirit, to continue his work, to indwell each person who would believe in him and trust his saving work on their behalf! These Spirit led believers thus make up Christ’s body left on earth, the church, who exist to bring God glory and honor for the sake of the world. What amazing gifts!

Christian community, the church, is a gift. Do you believe that? It’s not as cute as a baby Jesus in a nativity scene, but it’s God incarnate nonetheless. In Matthew 18, Jesus highlights the way community life, in Christ, should function.   As children, dependent on a good Father, and with a healthy respect for sin, we look out for and care for one another. We gather in Jesus’ name, and he promises to join us, then in the flesh, now in the Spirit. We read Scripture together, wrestle with it, and apply it to our lives…TOGETHER. Inevitably, sin will be revealed. Jesus taught earlier in Matthew 7 that when this happens, first, you look at yourself and deal with the “plank in your own eye,” but not for your sake alone! You do that so that you can see clearly to remove the “speck in your brother’s eye.” This is a good way to live. You humbly care for one another, attacking sin together, aware you are forgiven only by the grace of God through Christ.   This is a gift! Even when the defenses go up, Jesus keeps it fair. There is no place for false accusation in the church. Even if it comes to treating an unrepentant sinner like a Gentile or tax collector, this isn’t a license for cruelty. You treat them like any other non-believer, seeking to reconcile them to God with love.

The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic work, Life Together, put it this way…

Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the common life, is not the one who sins still a person with whom I too stand under the word of Christ? Will not another Christian’s sin be an occasion for me ever anew to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Therefore, will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches me that both of us can never live by our own words or deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 36)

As you think about gifts this season, will you thank God for the church? Will you treat your own sin with honesty and repentance? Will you care enough about your brother or sister to point out sin that is destructive or harmful and seek forgiveness together? Jesus longed for his followers to do life together, to draw out the best in one another, and in so doing to make Him known by our love.

Stick Together

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Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Matthew 18:5-14

How is this for advertising?

IT’S BETTER FOR YOU….
to tie a giant, heavy circular stone around your neck and jump into the ocean!
to cut off your hand or your foot and throw it away, and enter life crippled or lame!
to tear your eye out and throw it away and enter life with one eye!

“Better than what?” you might ask! Exactly.

Those things sound awful: Sure death. Dismemberment. Eye balls popping out. But ALL of them are better than the effects of SIN, for yourself and for others.

Jesus is laying the foundation, one layer at a time, for life in the kingdom of God. It starts with all believers as “little ones”, totally dependent on their Father, God. Think of yourself less; trust your daddy.

Only from that perspective can each member of the community turn their focus to the other. Value them. Don’t harm their conscience (a more accurate translation of the Greek.) Don’t despise them; despise sin! Sin destroys people and communities!

In community life, it’s unifying to have a common enemy. Satan is that enemy and temptation to sin is his weapon of choice. Resist him together. Seek righteousness and holiness together. Don’t lose anyone; stick together. Look for the lost ones and bring them back into the community. This is a good way to live, friends. It minimizes conflict. It enables people, made in the image of a relational 3 in 1 God, to know and be known, to belong, and to have common purpose.

John said, “If you don’t love your brother whom you have seen, you cannot love God whom you haven’t seen.” (I John 4:20) Community life is part of loving God. You can’t have one without the other. It’s hard, but it’s beautiful God’s way.

Let’s flip the advertisement:

IT’S BETTER FOR YOU…
to belong to one another, like sheep hanging out on a beautiful hillside with their good shepherd.
to trust the shepherd (Jesus) to fight the bad guy out to kill and harm and destroy you.
to help each other resist sin because it’s harmful, and celebrate how good it is to live life God’s way!

Period.

Dependence

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“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 18:1-4

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
C.S. Lewis

In the upside down kingdom of heaven, humility is key. God, infinitely powerful and mighty, assumes the lowly form of a helpless babe, born to marginalized teenagers, grows up in obscurity, and then announces his kingdom as a demure carpenter amongst very ordinary lay-people. Meek and unassuming, Jesus ushers in a completely radical way of living, one where greatness is found in service, where the last are first, and where the trusting, humble nature of a child is valued above all.

Matthew 18 marks Jesus’ fourth major collection of teachings in this gospel narrative. In each of the previous discourses, the Sermon on the Mount (5-7), the apostolic send-off (10-11), and the seaside kingdom parables (13), Jesus has been expounding on the nature and implications of kingdom of God, present in heaven and now on earth. As his students are starting to “get it” on some level, they naturally start to feel pretty good about themselves, maybe even a bit proud of their inheritance as royal children of the King! It makes sense that they would want to know who is greatest, especially when the world and even the religious leaders didn’t think of them as anything special!

Jesus, ironically calls a child to them. If the disciples didn’t get a lot of esteem as fishermen, tax collectors, women or blue collar laborers, children got less in first century Palestine. Jesus certainly gives great value to the child, but his point is that would-be disciples, in his economy, must equally share the lowly status of children, a mutual condition of utter dependence on God.

Jesus is about to expound on the implications for the disciples as community. The groundwork for community life, Jesus says, is a shared understanding that no one is more important than anyone else. All are as helpless and reliant as a child in family life. Only God can be in charge. Even Jesus didn’t consider equality with God a reason to think highly of himself! (Philippians 2:6) Jesus, perfect as he was, said he could do nothing on his own accord, but only what he saw the Father doing. (John 5:27) He exemplified humility even as he demanded it.

A child, in a loving home, doesn’t question her status or her value. She doesn’t question where her next meal will come from or what she will wear. She simply cries out in need and trusts that the need will be met. She loves as she is loved. So it is in the kingdom of heaven. We cry out to a really good dad, who loved us enough to make a way to himself. He runs to us and loves to meet our needs. When we cry out together, from a shared posture of total reliance, we become the family of God.  And that is a really good way to live!

Kingdom Come

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51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Matthew 13:51-52

 

The kingdom of heaven. Jesus standing between old and new. Ancient promises fulfilled, while something new emerges. “God’s future was breaking into the present – heaven was arriving on earth.” (NT Wright, Simply Christian)

This is deep. These concepts were radically new and unexpected when Jesus spoke them. Jesus’ central message was that this kingdom of heaven was at hand, was essentially staring his followers in the face. The explanation required layers of meaning, backed up a continual, self-sacrificing demonstration of love by an incarnate God.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like…scattered seeds, fruitful in receptive soil, something tiny that grows exponentially into something beautiful and useful, a net and a harvest, where evil will one day be expunged. The kingdom of God…grows, produces, is mysterious, is unassuming, flourishes alongside evil, and will be subject to a final judgment.

Wrapped up in this information overload was Jesus’ invitation to imitation. He bid his disciples to walk with him, to trust him, to “come and see.” He asked them if they understood what he was saying. I imagine their answer as more of a question than a response…a shaky “Yes?” I imagine Jesus smiling back, knowing that this was going to take a lot of active learning. He affirms them, calling them scribes (people entrusted to copy the ancient text of Scripture!) They will be like the master of the house, commoners elevated to wealthy homeowner status, a kingdom inheritance! They are compelled now, to share this secret kingdom treasure, making sense of the old and the new to their circles of influence. And bring forth they will! The fact that we are pondering these words today is evidence!

I find it baffling that Jesus entrusted this kingdom message to a select few, in whom he invested divine time and energy, every resource at his disposal. It was God’s perfect plan. It wasn’t just information to be learned; it was the presence of God to be experienced. It was a preparation for the Holy Spirit that would, through people like you and me, make this kingdom real through every tumultuous period of history since, right up to the present day.

The kingdom of God is at hand, my friends.   It’s already here and its fullness is yet to come! We are the ones who now have the privilege to take this old and new treasure and bring it forth! May God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, through you and through me!

A Net

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47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:47-50, ESV

 

Matthew ends this parabolic discourse of Jesus with a unique message to this insider troupe. These followers, made up of fishermen and tradesmen, tax collectors and housewives, commoners by all accounts, were being let in on great kingdom secrets. The king of kings, himself, was calling them to clandestine royalty, to be his secret agents in the kingdom of heaven. This mission, if they chose to accept it, was going to be costly, dangerous, and difficult. They needed courage and hope. Jesus served it up where it all began for them, at the fishing docks.

Jesus first called Peter, Andrew, James and John as he walked by the Sea of Galilee where they were fishermen. While they were mending their nets, Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18-22) As hard as that was for them to grasp, they left their nets and followed him. They witnessed him proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, while healing every disease and affliction among the people. “Repent, for the kingdom is near,” was Jesus’ favorite tagline, his most used good news message.

Far from the political or military powerhouse the disciples and every expectant Jew anticipated, this messiah was soft-spoken and tender, meek and mild. His kingdom was near, but not nearly what they expected! He asked them to turn the other cheek, to resist fighting evil with evil. (Matthew 5) That took uncommon restraint and humility. Jesus assures them in this final kingdom likeness, that evil will not be overlooked in the kingdom of heaven. Judgment is coming. Evil will be put in its place.

“The kingdom of heaven”, he said, “is like a net,” a really big net. Probably understood by these fisherman to be a 750 to 1000 foot long wall-like structure, 25 feet high at its center and 5 feet high at the ends, weighted at its bottom, and buoyed at its top, this massive net could bring in large quantities of fish, the good with the bad. Just like they had to separate the good eating fish from the less appetizing or “unclean” ones (Lev 11:9-12), God will separate the evil from the righteous at the end of the age. Just like the wheat and the weeds were allowed to grow together, the net will be no respecter of persons. Every man, woman, boy and girl will find themselves in its scope. The good news is that it was not up to the disciples nor is it up to us as Christ followers today, to determine the good from the bad when fishing for men. God’s got that covered. He’s just and merciful.

Thankfully, for those of us who choose to recognize the enormous value of a God who gives himself to anyone who will receive him and apply his salvation to their life, he will show unlimited mercy. His righteousness is ours for the taking! But to those who will not accept Jesus death on their behalf, who choose to go it their own way, depend on their own righteousness, and who allow themselves to be used by Satan to promote chaos and evil in this world, a day of divine fairness is coming. They will get what we all deserve, ultimate death and despair, a complete separation from God.

It was a gift for Jesus to describe the kingdom this way! We face a similar challenge to our resolve today as followers of Jesus when we face evil on so many fronts.   Disciples are not immune to the destructive forces of lies, cheating, stealing, sexual sin, abandonment, rejection, personal violations, violence, and even death in all its cruel forms. We live in a fallen world, but we serve a victorious king! In his kingdom, evil will not prevail. Let go of the very human need for vindication and retribution, so that you can live a life full of the peace and joy only God can give. God will fight for you, friend. And He always wins! Redemption and renewal are on the way.