Welcome to part four of our series “Rethinking the Church”. Today we’re going to look at Jesus teaching about the last days, the second coming, and the judgment. This is important, because when Jesus spoke on the subject he made three things very clear.
This is a very important teaching, because we don’t want to enter into the judgment casually. Eternity is a long time, and yet we’re aware that we’re in the last days, because Jesus warned of an increase of wars, famines, earthquake, persecution, deception, betrayal, and in general an increase of wickedness, but he encouraged us in Matthew chapter 24… He dangled the proverbial “carrot” out in front of us saying…
“He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
This morning I want to talk about “Preparation for Your Final” because honestly a lot of us face fear of the future. But on the other hand, there are those who have a false sense of peace, who’ve become lax and complacent, and of whom Jeremiah quoted, “Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). And yet the Lord warned repeatedly, "There is no peace for the wicked" (Isaiah 48:22). So we’re going to look at what Jesus said about the judgment, because sometimes fear can be a great motivator, but it can also cause us to live our lives paralyzed and ineffective for the kingdom. And yet it’s not without reason that there’s a sense of fear, because Jesus warned in Luke chapter 12,
“I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:5).
So there certainly is room for a holy fear, but we need to learn how to overcome the fear of failure, the fear of falling short, and I’m praying that God’s word would minister to you in an awesome way today. You see, as believers, God wants us to replace our fear with faith; yet many of us have been frozen, and the time is short, so we need to do something now, and we can’t wait. You don’t want to put off preparing for your future. You’ve got to do something now, because it’s inevitable that each and every one of us will stand before God and be held accountable for our lives. The apostle Paul said it this way in second Corinthians…
“We make it our goal to please him… for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).
As we begin, I pray that today you’ll hear the Word of God in a way that you never have before and that the Spirit of God would touch your life in such a way that you’ll surrender your whole heart to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; and on this day your entire life will be transformed; and you’ll never be the same. You see, God’s calling some of you to take a step of faith; and as you hear God’s word he’s going to stir faith within you and you’ll be moved by the Spirit of God to a place of radical obedience.
I’m believing that some of you are being called to serve, some of you are being called into the ministry, and there are others of you that will take a step of faith, stepping out of your comfort zone to attempt something that without God would certainly fail. And yet at the same time I know and anticipate that the moment you decide to take a step of faith into God’s perfect will, that Satan our spiritual enemy, will try to talk you out of trying and he’ll tap into your fear of failure, because if he can persuade you to wait, or cause you to hesitate, he’s effectively hindered the forward momentum of the kingdom of God. But the Bible tells us in second Timothy chapter 1…
“God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7).
We know that God is doing something unexplainable and something powerful in our lives as he helps us and empowers us to overcome this fear. This morning as we’re preparing for our final we must take a strong stance and step out in faith knowing that giving in to fear can cost us far more than we realize. Today we’re going to look at a story Jesus told about the coming judgment that illustrates the cost of fear and is intended to motivate and embolden his servants. That’s what we’re going to look at beginning in Matthew chapter 25 and verse 14, where Jesus said:
"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
"The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.'
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!” (Matthew 25:14-23).
Now it’s apparent that these first two guys had overcome their fear of failure, they were risk-takers, they’d invested and they had doubled the initial principle. But the third guy, he was afraid of failure. Like many, he was paralyzed with fear, and instead of taking a risk, he played it safe. And his life illustrates the tragedy of wasted opportunity. Like so many, he buried his talent, and when the master came back verse 24 tells us…
"Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'
"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest” (Matthew 25:24-27).
This third guy said, “I know that you’re a hard man so I was afraid… I was afraid of failing, afraid I may let you down, afraid I may not succeed… So I went and hid your talent in the ground. And you can almost sense the pride in his voice, you know, “See here’s what belongs to you.” But watch his master’s response, he didn’t congratulate him for playing it safe, he didn’t praise him for not risking the investment or guarding what he’d been given; actually his response was quite the opposite. Jesus said in verse 28…
"'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:28-30).
You see, it was the fear of failure that had paralyzed this guy and the very thing which he’d guarded so carefully he ended up losing in the end. I want to encourage you that whenever you sense God calling you to take a step of faith, take the risk and don’t let someone else’s fear of failure, or someone else’s past talk you out of doing what you know God wants you to do, and don’t let the enemy steal your rewards.
Now I know some of you, you really love your master, and you want to show him how much you love him, and so this is your opportunity to really invest your time, your energy, and the God given gifts and skills you have. Some of you, God is calling you to be the spiritual leader of your family or maybe to give a biblical tithe and to worship God in a generous way. Others of you, God is birthing a new ministry and many of you know that you’re called to make disciples for Christ, but you’re afraid to try because you may not have what it takes. It’s the fear of failure, maybe you’ve been burned in the past, so you hesitate, but if we could just grasp the potential of taking that risk, of walking in faith, and living for eternity it would transform our lives and our church.
Today, as we are Rethinking the Church, I want to talk about being ready, taking responsibility, and taking action before it’s too late. You see, as long as it’s still today we can invest our lives by taking what God has given and using it for his glory. In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus continues, telling us about that day when we’ll stand before Him in verse 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” (Matthew 25:31-32).
Now Jesus’ description of separating sheep from the goats is an interesting comparison, because in Palestine goats and sheep often grazed together and from a distance it wasn’t always easy to tell the difference. And Matthew in his gospel writes much about this, about those who are the real believers and those who are not. He tells us about the good soil and bad soil, houses with foundations and those without, people who swarm through the wide gate and those who squeeze through the narrow gate, the virgins who have extra oil for the long night and those virgin who weren’t prepared, there are the wheat and the weeds, there are the faithful servants and the lazy servants, and now there are the sheep and the goats. And you know, sometimes those who look like sheep from a distance are actually goats, we can’t always tell the difference, but Jesus can and he tells us in John’s gospel,
"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” (John 10:14-15).
The good Shepherd will separate us in the final judgment. That’s what Jesus said in verse 33…
“He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matthew 25:33).
The question then, is what is the difference between the sheep and the goats; why will some people be placed on the right and others on the left?
Obviously, the deepest most defining characteristic of the sheep is that they’ve seized the opportunity to have their judgment placed upon the substitute, the sinless Lamb of God. The Lord Jesus Christ took upon himself the guilt and sin which was ours, it wasn’t his own, but it still had to be paid for; and therefore, when a person puts their trust in Jesus by God’s grace, his debt is paid for on the cross of Christ.
On the other hand, the goats are those who did not receive Jesus Christ, who don’t accept his Lordship or his atonement for their sin, and so they themselves will have to bear the punishment for their own sin.
And then the second thing that Jesus tells us here, is that clearly and unmistakably the most obvious difference between the sheep and the goats is how they respond to human need. It’s just like Jesus told us in John chapter 13…
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this ALL MEN WILL KNOW that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35).
Now I want you to follow me carefully, because I’m not presenting a social gospel, I’m not talking about getting saved by your good works, but Jesus makes it very clear that his people prove themselves to be his people in the way that they respond to human need. When you stand before the throne and Jesus examines your life you’re not going to be rewarded for your theological vocabulary, you’re not going to be rewarded for church membership, the number of Christian CDs in your car, the number of Christian books you’ve read, or the number of revivals you’ve attended. You’ll be rewarded according to your response to the needs of others; whether you showed compassion or not.
The sheep on the right showed compassion and the goats on the left didn’t. In this passage, Jesus tells us exactly what he expects of us, and it’s not anything impossible, because showing compassion is something anyone can do, no matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you have. As a matter of fact, Jesus described it this way in John chapter 15…
"If a man remains in me and I in him, he WILL bear much fruit” (John 15:5).
And again, in Matthew chapter 7…
“Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but… every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you’ll recognize them” (Matthew 7:17-20).
For the next few minutes as we finish this chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, I want to share with you three keys for passing your final, three don’ts to consider and to encourage you to conquer your fear and end well. And the first key is…
Jesus said in verse 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. For I 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” (Matthew 25:34-36).
Jesus is telling those of us that have trusted in his suffering, his dying, and his rising again, that we shouldn’t overlook opportunities to help others. We need to do good whenever we can, and yet as we consider world hunger it’s easy to become overcome with a sense of hopelessness. But Jesus doesn’t expect you to finance the operating budget for Compassion International. Here’s what you can do: you can sponsor a child, you can visit someone who needs encouragement, you can share Christ’s love with someone who doesn’t know him. When the opportunity presents itself, do something even if it’s something small, don’t overlook the little things. And the second key is…
Now of course I’m speaking figuratively, because if you make a tax-deductible donation it’s okay to get a receipt. But here’s what I’m talking about: when you do good, don’t worry about how it’s going to benefit you. Listen to how the sheep responded when they’re praised by their master in verse 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?' "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” (Matthew 25:37-40).
Now notice that the sheep in this story didn’t know that they were gaining rewards in heaven by helping. Scoring points in heaven wasn’t their motivation, they were simply responding with Christ-like compassion to human need. They didn’t ask for a receipt, they didn’t keep record of their good deeds, they just helped out when they could. Sheep help people, because it’s in their heart to respond to human need. They do good without expecting anything in return. And the third key is…
Look at what Jesus said to the goats in verse 41 and how they responded…
“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, '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?” (Matthew 25:41-44).
You get the impression that if they had known it was Jesus, that they were going to be rewarded, and that Jesus was the one whose needs they ignored, that they would have responded differently. But listen to what Jesus said in verse 45…
"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” (Matthew 25:45).
When we stand before Jesus’ throne on that last day, the Bible says that we’ll be judged according to what we’ve done, so that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). May we be rich in good deeds, being generous and willing to share with the least of these (1 Timothy 6:18). You know, maybe to those who’ll never be able to pay you back? To those whose choices may have put them or their children in a difficult situation? To those who are from a different country, whose politics you disagree with, or who belong to a different religion? You see, I don’t believe Jesus excludes anyone from the random acts of compassion which we’re to do.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we’ll be rewarded as to how we respond to human need. Did you or did you not show compassion? Were you willing to take a risk and step out of your comfort zone? You see, without faith, without trusting God, without stepping out of your comfort zone, it’s completely and absolutely impossible to please God. You can’t play it safe and please God. You can’t bury your talent and please God. You can’t let the fear of failure overtake you, because it’ll cost you more than you ever imagined. You won’t want to stand before Jesus with regret wondering what should’ve been, what could’ve been, or what would’ve been if you weren’t afraid to try.
Jesus separates the goats from the sheep and says in verse 46….
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:46).
Today as we close, I want to redefine failure, because I believe it’ll impact how we live our lives today. You see, failure is the price, it’s the toll that we pay on the road to God’s blessing. And I believe that we just need to get out there, get involved, and let things happen, not being fearful of failing, because the Bible tells us in Galatians chapter 6,
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
We can’t give up, because it doesn’t matter what happens to us, it matters what happens in us. You see, God may be doing something greater in you to prepare you for what he wants to do through you. And some of you today, God is calling you to take a leap of faith, to know and to believe with all your heart that you can’t play it safe anymore.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
January 29, 2017
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.