Whatever You Did for the Least of These (The Last Days, part 7)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll conclude with Matthew 25:31-46.

In Matthew 25, Jesus concluded his teaching about his return with a picture of final judgment. Final judgment is the last event of the current age of history, before eternity kicks off with the re-creation and perfection of the heavens and earth. Of this event, Jesus says,

“All the nations will be gathered before [the Son of Man], and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'” (25:32-34)

Jesus’ mention of “all the nations” indicates that though he was a Jew and the expected Messiah of the Israelites, that neither the salvation he offers nor the judgment he carries out is exclusively for the Jews. In the Old Testament, God chose the Jews as his people to bring forth a King who would be King over all peoples. So, rightly, all will stand before Jesus at judgment.

During judgment there is a separation of people that Jesus compares to the separation of sheep and goats. Shepherding terminology is used much throughout the Bible, and sheep often stand as a metaphor for God’s people and goats as those who continue in their sin and rebellion against God. The sheep are blessed and welcomed into the joys of eternity; whereas later, the goats are cursed and sent “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angles” (25:41). This showing the wrath of God that burns against sin.

So, what does Jesus say marks the difference between the sheep and goats? Of the sheep, he says, “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 took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me” (25:35-36).

This prompts the people to ask, “When did we do these things?” With the King replying, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (25:37-40). The goats, however, are described as those who did not help take care of others.

Here we find an example of what James would label as faith and works. Faith without works is dead, James wrote. His point being that a true faith in God through Jesus, a faith that is trusting in him for the love of God and the forgiveness of sins, is a faith that also manifests itself in good works, specifically works that show a great love for others.

Love is at the heart of the Christian faith. We experience God’s love and that love compels us to love others. We still might do some socially good deeds like those described without faith, but the deeds themselves won’t save us. We need faith. (See: Isaiah 64:6 and Ephesians 2:8-10). But then, a person with faith will live out that faith in a way that makes a positive impact on others. Saving faith always leads to doing good. And as we do to others, it is as if we have done for Jesus.

So, as we long for Jesus’ return, let us live out our faith, seeking to meet people’s needs as we wait to enter the perfect joy of eternity.

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For the previous part of this series, click here: https://fbcadrian.com/2018/08/16/well-done-the-last-days-part-6/

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“Well Done” (The Last Days, part 6)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll consider Matthew 25:14-30.

Matthew 25 records Jesus telling three parables about his return. The first in 25:1-13 reiterates the truths at the end of chapter 24–we don’t know when Jesus is going to return, but we should live each day prepared, seeking to do his will while we still have breath on this earth.

Then in 25:14-30, we come across what is often called “the parable of the talents,” which tends to be quite familiar to followers of Jesus. Jesus told the story of a rich and powerful man who had three servants. To each he gave various talents, a measure of money in which one talent was worth about 20 years wages of the common laborer. The man then went on a journey to return at a later time.

Two servants took what they were given and earned more back for the master. The last servant, however, hid the talent in a hole in the ground and did nothing with it. When the master returned he called the servants to himself and found out what they had done.

The first two received high praise: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!” (25:21, 23).

The third servant did not fare well. He was called evil and lazy and he was stripped of all he had and tossed into the “outer darkness.”

The point of the story expands on the idea that Jesus will return and we won’t know when. The emphasis here, however, is the faithfulness we show in the meantime.

God gives a variety of “talents” to each of us. These may include our experiences, education, money, influence, time, etc. These are resources that God has given us to use in the world to love him supremely and love others deeply. The question is: What do we do with them?

A follower of Jesus will see his or her life and the things of life as an opportunity. This opportunity isn’t to make a name for ourselves but to magnify the fame of Jesus. It is an opportunity to tell the story of the great love he showed us in dying for our sins, and to tell the story of the great hope and joy we can have trusting in his return. It is also an opportunity to look around at the various needs others around us have and figure out ways to meet them as tangible demonstrations of God’s love.

Living our lives in such a way, trusting in Jesus and loving others as he has loved us, will lead us to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For the previous part of this series, click here: https://fbcadrian.com/2018/07/26/no-one-knows-the-day-or-hour-the-last-days-part-5/

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No One Knows the Day or Hour (The Last Days, part 5)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll consider Matthew 24:32-51.

Every year, it seems, someone comes out with a new prediction–a day and hour about when the world will end. Some base it on calculations they’ve done through supposed secret Bible codes, some base it on what they perceive as certain heavenly signs like eclipses, and some base it on things like the Mayan calendar.

Yet, when it comes to such predictions, Jesus says that making them is futile. Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows–neither the angels of heaven nor the Son–except the Father alone.” So, at least during his time on earth, not even Jesus was told the day and hour by the Father. If Jesus didn’t know, then we can be sure that whatever new book predicting the end that hits the shelves isn’t worth reading.

But this mystery surrounding the time of Jesus’ return should not lead his faithful followers to spiritual apathy or laziness. Jesus does say that we can see by certain signs, presumably the increasing birth pangs from earlier in the chapter, that the end is getting closer. But apart from this, we don’t know if it will be in our lifetime or in a hundred lifetimes from now.

So, heeding Jesus’ words, what do we do while we wait?

First, we live life as normal. Jesus compares his return to the flood of Noah, where people continued on with life as usual until the flood unexpectedly hit (at least unexpectedly for those outside of Noah’s family). They ate, drank, and married “until the flood came and swept them all away” (24:37-39). Now, at first glance this might seem like a reason to not “live life as normal,” but we must consider what Jesus said next:

This is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding grain with a hand mill; one will be taken and one left. (24:39-41)

The “taken and left” indicates the difference between those going with Jesus into eternal joy and those without Jesus going into eternal judgment. But when one is taken and one is left, both are doing everyday things. So, we don’t live in fear or anxiety. We don’t separate ourselves from society to live in some compound. We go about life as normal. But…

Second, we live life as normal but expectant. Jesus next says to “stay alert” and “be ready.” He then gives the illustration of a servant put in charge of a house while the master is away. Jesus said, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.” (24:45-46)

Jesus gave us a job in this life: We’re to use our talents, resources, and experiences to love God supremely, love others deeply, and seek to make more disciples of Jesus. So, as we go about our daily lives, we are also to be people who happily worship God and live blamelessly, strive to meet needs, tell others about Jesus, and help other followers of Jesus grow in their faith.

In this way, we make ourselves ready for the return of our Savior-King, no matter when the day and hour will be.

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For the previous part of this series, click here: https://fbcadrian.com/2018/07/23/the-world-will-know-the-last-days-part-4/

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The World Will Know (The Last Days, part 4)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll consider Matthew 24:23-31.

In his book, The Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse, Jason Boyett details several end times predictions made throughout history, as well as claims by different figures to have been the returned messiah. That such people have come and gone should not surprise us. Jesus warned his followers that “false messiahs and false prophets” would arise saying things like “See, here is the Messiah!” or “Over here!” Jesus even warned that some would have the ability to do a variety of “signs and wonders.”

And what does Jesus say about all of this?

“Do not believe it.”

Their claims are false, because Jesus detailed that his return will not be a secret event that only a handful know about. He is not coming back to a wilderness compound and then sending out his followers to say to others, “Come with us to the place where the messiah is!”

Jesus’ return will be a visible, earth-shaking event. The world will know.

Jesus compared his return to lightning that “comes from the east and flashes as far as the west.” We’ve seen lightning like that in an overhead thunderstorm. Flashes of lightning can even make the darkest midnight seem brighter than the sunniest noon. Jesus went on to say that his return will be accompanied by cosmic realities–signs in the sky. And “all the peoples of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Then add to this trumpet blasts and the gathering together of God’s people.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul had to correct a heresy that Jesus had come back and the church there had missed him. Jesus’ words assure us that the event will not go unnoticed.

This gives us confidence to reject any claim by anyone that Jesus has returned. Even if the person making the claim is able to astound with fake miracles and displays of power. Jesus will not contradict himself and his return will be visible for all to see.

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For the previous part of this series, click here: https://fbcadrian.com/2018/07/19/troubles-and-distress-the-last-days-part-3/

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Troubles and Distress (The Last Days part 3)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll consider Matthew 24:15-22.

In today’s passage, we come to one of the more debated sections of Matthew 24. Jesus speaks of a prophecy in Daniel concerning the “abomination of desolation” and warns of a “great tribulation” or “great distress”, depending on your translation. Some believe this points forward to the Anti-Christ and the wrath of God poured out on the world.

But we find several clues in scripture that indicate these verses speak more of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

One of the first places to look is the parallel account in Luke 21:20-24. In Luke, we read slightly different words from Jesus, and what are we to make of that? Does that mean a contradiction in the writings? No, it’s better to think about it in the way we perceive things.

Two people can go to the same baseball game. One might sit in the left field stands and the other behind home plate. They watch the same event from different perspectives. When they tell others about the game, they might share different details or highlight different big plays, all depending on their vantage point and audience. Yet, assuming they both shared accurately, what they each individually said is true and a piece of the whole. That’s how the different gospels work–they were written by four different men (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), each led by the same Holy Spirit but in different times, different places, and for different audiences.

So, reading Matthew and Luke together give us a more complete picture of Jesus’ words. Luke doesn’t mention Jesus’ reference to Daniel, but he does record Jesus saying, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near.” Then he gives the same advice to flee to the mountains and country side. And he describes the time not only as a period of distress but “wrath against this people.” Finally, he speaks of Jerusalem being overwhelmed by “gentiles” (non-Jews) “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

Historically, leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, the violent and volatile political group called the Zealots fought to control Jerusalem and led a rebellion against Rome, killing many in a refusal to pay taxes. Rome responded by sending troops and besieging the city. During this time, the Zealots burned many of their own supplies hoping to motivate others to join the fight, but ended up causing the death of many from a lack of food. Titus, sent by his father–the emperor Vespasian, led the assault that captured the city, destroyed the temple, and left Jerusalem in ruins. Many who had not fled were killed.

In this case, the battle was the “great distress”, Titus was the “abomination of desolation” whose armies left the city in ruins, and Jerusalem has had populations consisting of many gentiles ever since.

Elsewhere, the Bible still says plenty about antichrists and “the antichrist.” The Bible also says much about the distress and tribulation that many followers of Jesus have faced and will face throughout history. Jesus will speak of his return further in Matthew 24, but we must remember that part of his answer was in response to the question by the disciples about when the destruction of the temple would take place (23:37-24:3).

So, these words of Jesus in Matthew 24:15-22 remind us to look backward to fuel faith in what lies ahead. Jesus’ words that proved true with the events of 70AD will also prove true when he returns, just as he promised.

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For the previous part of this series, click here: https://fbcadrian.com/2018/07/17/not-yet-the-end-the-last-days-part-2/

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Not Yet The End (The Last Days part 2)

In this devotional series, we’re taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 to see what Jesus teaches us about his return and the end of the current age of history. Today, we’ll consider Matthew 24:3-14.

After prophesying about the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple, Jesus was gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. There, they asked him a series of questions: “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

It would seem in their minds, the destruction of the temple and the return of Jesus were part of the same event, not different events separated by nearly two thousand years of history and counting. This will be important as Jesus’ answer progresses and we look to separate the events of 70AD with events still future.

But before Jesus gets there, he details some things that must happen before the end of the age. On the one hand, it’s not a pretty picture; but on the other hand there is hope woven within. So, what are the marks of the not-yet-end?

  1. The deception of false messiahs–Jesus says many others will come claiming to be him, the Savior-King of the world, and they will be liars. As Jesus will detail later, his return isn’t going to be to some wilderness compound in secret, but will be loud and visible for the whole world to see.
  2. Increasing warfare and geopolitical tension
  3. Increasing natural disasters
  4. Persecutions, false prophets, and a turning away from the faith
  5. Growing lawlessness and a growing lack of love

These things are not pretty, and at times when we see such things, we think, “Surely the end is near”; but Jesus calls such things the “beginning of birth pains.” When a woman is pregnant, we look forward to the birth of the child–bringing new life into the world. But that is preceded by pains that tend to get worse as the moment of birth draws near.

We long for the day where eternal joy and hope will spring forth in the birth of a new creation, but until that time there will be growing pain. That is the natural course of sinfulness on the world. We are marching toward a wonderful utopia, but not one built on the plans and actions of humanity. No, ours is built fully on the plan and actions of God.

Yet, even with this warning of things growing worse in a sinful world, there is hope. The faithful will endure and be saved, Jesus says, and the gospel will spread into all the world. In Revelation, John sees a picture of eternity where people from every “tribe, tongue, and nation” are worshiping Jesus. People will only worship Jesus if they know about Jesus, and they will only know about Jesus if they hear the gospel. And people from all over the world will hear and believe.

In short, this is Jesus saying: The darkness will not snuff out the light. People will hear about me, know me, and follow me.

What, then, do we do as we see the darkness in the world that signal birth pangs but isn’t quite the end? We keep shining light. We let the world know about Jesus who will one day return and bring an end to all the darkness.

All scripture references taken from the Christian Standard Bible. For part 1 of this series, click here: https://fbcadrian.com/2018/07/11/the-smashing-of-idols-the-last-days-part-1/

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The Smashing of Idols (The Last Days part 1)

One topic that always draws a lot of attention in Christian circles is the end times. In general, all followers of Jesus believe the same basic truth: History has a time limit. God in his plan has set boundaries on the beginning and the end of present age of humanity. Jesus will come back, and when he does he will right all wrongs and make all things news and glorious for his people.

As for the timing, order, and specifics of certain events related to that basic truth, Christians throughout history have diverged with various interpretations. That can be a good things as long as we humbly realize that we have much to learn from different perspectives and don’t become too heatedly dogmatic on debated aspects beyond the basic core truth.

With that in mind, in this devotional series, we’ll be taking a look at Matthew 24 & 25 and see some of what we learn concerning the end of the age and the return of Jesus.

We’ll start today with Matthew 24:1-2:

As Jesus left and was going out of the temple, his disciples came up and called his attention to its buildings. He replied to them, “Do you see all these things? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down.”

In Matthew 23, Jesus blasted the Pharisees and other religious leaders for their hypocrisy. Through their rules and regulations, they would lay heavy burdens on people they were not willing to bear themselves. Further, Jesus said that even though they gave the appearance of righteousness and zeal for God, their hearts were far from him. Then Jesus concluded with a lament over Jerusalem, speaking to how he longed to gather the people to himself but they were largely unwilling to follow him.

It’s in response to these scathing statements that the disciples seemed eager to find something about the city and religious culture of the day that would impress Jesus. So they pointed out the buildings of the temple.

But Jesus was not impressed. In fact, his reply was that the whole complex would soon be a pile of rubble. This sets the stage to follow, after Jesus and his followers go to the Mount of Olives in 24:3, for the discussion on the end of the age and the return of Jesus.

While the temple and Jerusalem of that day were largely destroyed in the year 70AD, fulfilling Jesus’ words, this speaks a truth to current history and the end of the age: God is not impressed with our idols.

You see, for the religious leaders of that day, the temple had become and idol of sorts. Jesus at one point even drove out persons and animals with whips while overturning tables because the outer courts had been turned into a market to make a profit off people’s sacrifices to God. The religious practices of that day had become corrupted so that a place of worship became a place for exalting man. The temple itself had become a status symbol for the supposed caretakers over the Jews.

Likewise, when Jesus returns, our idols will not stand. Paul wrote of this truth in 1 Corinthians 3 when he talked about how our works to help build God’s kingdom will be judged. Those who build with “gold, silver, and costly stones” or good works that exalt God and show love for others, will find their deeds refined and rewarded. Those who build with “wood, hay, or straw” or works that mainly exalt self, even though they appear good–motive still matters–will find their works in ruins.

This reminds us that as we wait for the return of Jesus, the point of life and faith isn’t to try to impress God and others. Rather, the point is to be faithful, God-glorifying, and others-serving. Thus, as Jesus said elsewhere: The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

So, let us keep watch on our motives, abandon our self-exalting idols, and live fully for the glory of God.

Scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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