IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




Standing Firm Through Love

Date: Oct. 9, 2016

Author: Michael Mark

Matthew 25:31-46

Key Verse: Matthew 25:40

“The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

Love.  When you hear that word, what comes to mind?  It is one of the most beautiful concepts and ideas in the world.  Who doesn't love love?  The Beatles had a hit song, “All You Need is Love,” it's a catchy tune, perhaps some of you know it.  Love makes us feel good.  But what is love?  What is true love?  The world does not understand true love.  One of the members of the Beatles left his wife for another lover.  Just a couple of weeks ago Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie announced their divorce, yet a decade ago they seemed so in love.  So what is true love?  True love is a love that is faithful, a love that endures and a love that never changes.  Only one love has met all of those criteria.  Only one love has stood the test of time, and has endured from the beginning of the world, until now, and will continue to go on forever.  True love is the love of God, and God is the source of true love.  1 John 4:16 says very clearly: God is love.  The world does not understand true love, but God has demonstrated it time and time again, and God continues to express his love through his people here on earth.

We are now coming to the end of the Olivet Discourse.  The Olivet Discourse has been what we are studying since Ch. 24 – it is Jesus' lecture to his disciples on the Mount of Olives.  He was preparing his disciples for his second coming, and what to do until that time.  If you recall, about 3 weeks ago, we focused on Jesus' teaching that whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.  Since then we have been in a mini-series with the theme: standing firm.  2 weeks ago Sh. Bob talked about standing firm by keeping watch.  Last week we heard from Dan about standing firm in faithfulness.  Today, in the last section of the discourse, we will learn about standing firm through love.  At the beginning of his discourse, he warned the disciples that because of the increase in wickedness the love of most will grow cold, but immediately after he says “but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matt 24:12-13).”  Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.  My wife and I were in Barcelona last week.  The trip was excellent, but we were warned many times to watch out for pick-pockets.  Although the trip was enjoyable, sometimes we had to walk in crowded places or buses suspicious or cautious of anyone trying to pick our pockets.  It is natural for love to begin to cool because of wickedness, but Jesus encourages us to keep our love warm to the end until he comes again.  Here he encourages his disciples to stand firm through love, by loving one another, until he comes again.  Jesus now will not speak in a parable, as he did in the last 2 parts, but will prophecy plainly about what will happen when he comes again, and encourage his disciples to persevere in love.

He begins in v.31, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.”  Jesus will return to establish his kingdom here on earth, but right before that will come the judgment.  The Son of God, who is now hidden from us, seated at the right hand of God, will be revealed to all the world.  Jesus will return to this world which he created, with power and great glory.  The whole world will acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Revelation we see that he comes on the clouds, he will be dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet with a golden sash around his chest.  The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow and his eyes were like a blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of rushing waters.  His face was like the sun – shining in all its brilliance (Rev 1:7, 13-16).  He will come, surrounded by angels, and he will take his seat on his glorious throne.  He is truly the king, and the judge.  Has anyone ever gone to court?  I was in court once for a traffic violation.  Do you know what happens there?  When the judge walks in, everyone rises.  The judge of all the earth has come to take his seat on the throne.

Look at v.32-33, “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”  This will be quite a scene.  Jesus at the center, angels behind him, and people from all nations before him.  The dead will be raised and gathered by the angels, and the living and the dead together will face judgment.  There are a few views about those who are being judged before Christ, I will describe two of them.  One view is that this is all people who ever lived.  This will be the one and only judgment before the end.  Another view is that these only consist of people who profess that they are Christian.  There is still judgment for the atheist or pagan, but this one Jesus speaks of are for those who say they are Christian – and this judgment will separate the true believers from false.  As Sh. Bob said, it may be to separate the professors from the pretenders.  One explanation for this view is that in this whole discourse Jesus is talking to and referring to those who claim to be faithful to him.  I am more inclined toward the first view, that this is all people, but great men I respect, the great 18h century preacher John Gill, and another great preacher from the 21st century Dan Bockenfeld, hold to the second view. 

In either case we see that Jesus separates them into 2 groups – the sheep to his right, and the goats to his left, and he deals with each group differently.  The sheep represent the righteous, and the goats represent the wicked.  To be on the right side often symbolized favor.  Today the sheep are mixed in with the goats, and sometimes we cannot tell who is who, but the Judge will determine with 100% accuracy who is righteous and who is wicked.

Jesus first deals with the sheep, but the goats will able to see what is going on.  Verse 34 continues, “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.'”  This is the first time Jesus directly calls himself the King, and that is who he is.  And you might notice that Jesus, the King, calls God “my Father.”  Jesus is saying quite plainly that he is the Son of God.  But how might we be blessed?  How can we be the sheep in the flock of God?  It is only by the grace of God.  Verse 34 is all about the grace of God.  God himself is the source of blessing.  This is the grace of God: that though we were born sinners, enemies of his kingdom, he gave his life to give us peace.  God sent his Son to die on the cross for you to remove your sins.  He suffered the full extent of the punishment you deserve.  Therefore through Christ all of your iniquities have been forgiven and forgotten, so that you may be adopted as sons and daughters of God, able to receive an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  It cost God his Son to give you the kingdom, but he was happy to pay that price, so that you might see the full extent of his love for you.  We sang in the hymn today:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure-
The saints' and angels' song.

Trust in what Christ has done for the forgiveness of all your sins. 

God is rich in grace and mercy.  He bids those who trust in Christ, take your inheritance.  The kingdom of God is yours, he gives it to you, it is your possession.  This is a great encouragement for the Christian believer.  Don't worry about the wicked, who seem to make tons of money through their schemes.  Don't worry about the wicked, who seem to be enjoying a care free and pleasure filled life, for you will receive a part in the kingdom of God.  Even the least portion in the kingdom of heaven is far greater, far superior than the most beautiful piece of property on this earth.  And this inheritance was prepared for you since the creation of the world.  What does that mean?  Simply this – that it is given to you by the grace of God.  The inheritance had your name on it before you were born.  You did nothing to earn it, but God saved you in order to give it to you.  It is hard to understand predestination, but I would say you don't have to.  Simply believe in the grace of God, that all that you have received from him is a gift given to you out of love.

We can identify sheep from v.35-39.  These are good works the King commends them for.  To be clear, these works are not what caused them to be sheep, these are what identifies them as sheep.  Good works do not make us sheep, but they are evidence that we are sheep.  One way to identify the sheep of God is by their love.  Look at their love for God, in v.35-36, “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 me.”  Their love for God was the source of their love for others.  When you believe that God shed his blood and died for your sins, you will sin no more.  When you believe that God has forgiven you, you forgive others.  When you believe that you are loved by the Father, you love others.  Love can make a difference.  One time I was talking to my mom, and she was telling me how my brother got upset because apparently she promised he could drive when he got his license at 17, but she changed her mind and said he would have to wait until he's in college.  She said she could not trust him, but that was sad to me.  My mom is a widow and only those two live together, we are grown up and moved away.  I know that my brother isn't perfect, but I told her that if she didn't trust him, he would have no one to trust him, and that might be why he can get so angry sometimes.  The situation is better now, but imagine feeling that no one loves you.  We can always be assured that God loves us.

The righteous are also humble.  In v.37-39 they answer the King, “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?”  They did not know they were serving the Lord when they were serving others, when really they were serving by the Holy Spirit.  There was nothing proud, they did not boast, and they did not look for or expect a reward for helping others.  They gave no thought to themselves when helping others, and in humility considered others better than themselves (Php 2:3).  They had sympathy, charity, generosity, hospitality, compassion and empathy, especially for their Christian brothers and sisters.  We can do good deeds for God, without thinking of ourselves.  It comes naturally with the love of God.  You don’t think twice, but you do the good thing, you love others.  I’m sure there were times in your lives where you didn’t think twice about helping another person, you just did it.  The response of the sheep was almost as if they were saying, Lord, I don't deserve this commendation.  Paul had this attitude, as he writes in 1 Cor 15:9-10, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.  No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”  God's grace to us should not be without effect, but we also should recognize it is God's grace that empowers us and enables us to serve in true love.

The King responded to this love and humility.  Can we all please read v.40, “The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”  Whatever they did was recognized, no matter how small, how simple or how mundane the task.  Even the simple things they were commended for.  If someone was hungry, they fed them.  If someone was thirsty, they gave them something to drink.  If someone was sick, they took care of them.  These are things everyone can do.  And if this is the reward for simple things, how much more the reward for deeper levels of devotion and mercy out of love toward God.  The King also esteems the least of his brothers and sisters.  Christ the King loves all regardless of popularity, skill or status, for even the least, the one who may be poor, or sick, he honors as brother and sister, so he cares that they are cared for.  Jesus also places a higher priority for Christian brothers and sisters.  He doesn't necessarily exclude non-Christians, sometimes it might be better not to support someone who is deceptive, or support them with what they really need.  But for true Christians, we should be more ready and willing to help.

Whatever was done, even to the least of Jesus' brothers and sisters, he considered it done to himself.  The sheep loved others for the sake of God.  King David showed this same kind of love for his friend Jonathan.  After God had made a promise to establish David's throne forever through Christ, God gave him great victories wherever he went, and the power of the nation of Israel grew.  At it's height during King David's reign, he asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake (2 Sam 9:1)?”  Saul, the first king of Israel and his son Jonathan died in battle, and their family nearly perished.  As king of a new dynasty, sometimes they would exterminate all potential competition from the old dynasty – but David, in desiring to show kindness to Jonathan, wanted to take care of his son.  He did it for Jonathan's sake.  I've told this story before, but I remember when Jimmy, Moses, Benji and Paul used to play with Joe when we went to Chuck E. Cheese, I consider that a kindness done for me.  So maybe we can ask ourselves, is there anyone to whom we can show kindness for God's sake?  Is there anyone we can show love to in action, to express our love for God?  When we love others for the sake of God, we are loving God directly.

On the other side of the King were the goats.  Let's look at how the King dealt with them, in v.41, “Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'”  Instead of saying, “Come,” he says “Depart from me” to this group on his left.  Instead of calling them blessed, he calls them cursed, and he sentences them to go into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  The eternal fire is symbolic of the wrath of God, and it is also the place we know as hell.  It will be a place of unspeakable misery, torment, anguish, worse than a hot desert without water, worse than any sickness, flu or illness you have ever suffered.  It will be a dark place, forever under God’s wrath with no relief.  Hell was created for the devil and his angels, who rebelled against God.  It is clear here that hell is a place of eternal punishment.  Some have said that souls well go into hell temporarily, or maybe stay there until they are purified for a million years.  Others have said that after the souls go to hell for some time, God will annihilate them and they will cease to exist.  But Jesus is pretty clear here that hell is eternal.  There are many people who do not like the idea of eternal hell, and cannot fathom the thought – but people like and accept the idea of eternal life.  If there is an eternal life, there also has to be an eternal hell.  Hell was created for the devil and his angels.  There is no redemption for them, no salvation because they sinned as higher and eternal beings.  Hell is a place of eternal torment reserved for them.  They may have no option for redemption, but we do now.  Like them we have sinned, and unless our sins are dealt with we will suffer the same fate when we pass from this mortal life into eternity.  But there is redemption available to us: Christ came to earth as a man, to die for the sins of mankind.  Christ frees us from the curse.  His sacrifice frees all mankind from the curse.  To reject Christ is to reject redemption.  Repentance, and faith in Christ will help us to cross over from curse to blessing, from eternal punishment, into eternal life.

From v.42-43, we will see the reason why they are given this sentence.  The King continues, “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.”   Among this group, there was no love for God, and no love for the needy people of God.  They are like the servant that received one bag of gold, that we learned about in last week's message.  That servant received God's grace, but instead of putting it to work buried it in the ground.  He did not do anything with the grace God gave him.  In the book of Amos the prophet preached against the nation of Israel at the height of their prosperity.  Some people had turned from God and were mistreating the poor and the needy, while living lavish lifestyles.  We see this in the religious leaders of Jerusalem in Jesus' day, when he pronounced seven woes on them for their hypocrisy.  How can people become hardened like this?  Romans 2:7-8 describes 2 types of people, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”  These people are those who are self-seeking, reject the truth and follow evil.  When the love of God is not in them, or they reject Christ, they love themselves and the things of this world, that it sometimes prevents them from helping someone else in need.

Look at their reply in v.44, “They will also 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?'”  This is a different attitude here than humility.  This is an attitude of self-righteousness or ignorance.  When they were judged, they did not think they were doing anything wrong, or they were not aware of their sins.  However, we are all sinners, we are all cursed.  1 John 1:8-10 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”  What is the sin here?  It's that people naturally do not love God with all their heart, and as a result people cannot love others with all their heart.  Oftentimes the worldly form of love ends in divorce, and one of the reasons is “irreconcilable differences.”  The antidote, then, it seems, is to confess our sins to him who is faithful, just and forgiving. 

Jesus answers them in v.45, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  Note here, that Jesus does not use the words brother and sister, and perhaps because the people on the left could not recognize or did not care to recognize God's children.  Also, they were convicted of the things they did not do.  There are two types of sins: sins of omission, like omitting something.  Sins of omission are where someone does not do what is right.  Then there are sins of commission, like committing something.  These are sins where someone intentionally does something wrong.  If these people are being punished for things they did not do, I imagine the punishment for the wrong things done could be worse.

The final sentence is carried out in verse 46: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  Those who were wicked, got to hear about the rewards the righteous received, but they did not get to see them go to eternal life.  Perhaps this may make them more miserable when they enter eternal punishment, and cause the weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The righteous heard about the punishment the wicked would receive, and saw them go away to eternal punishment, but this may make them appreciate more the grace of God they received to enter in to eternal life.  The good news, relatively speaking, is that this has not happened yet.  Jesus has told us ahead of time to prepare us for his return.  So what should we do?  First, remember God's love for you, that he send his one and only Son to die on the cross for your sins.  He paid your price so that he can give you an inheritance that is indescribably glorious.  The apostle John says this several times in 1 John, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16, also see 1 John 4:9-21)”  Repent of your sins and put your trust and hope in Jesus Christ the King. 

In the hope of his return, stand firm through loving one another.  Jude 20-21 sums this up best: “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”  The world needs to know what true love is.  They need to know the love of God, expressed in how we love one another, and how we love them.  We may begin with our families and those around us.  For God's sake (in honor of God), love your wife or husband, your children, your parents, siblings and relatives.  Let us love one another for the sake of God, fellowshipping with one another, bearing with one another, forgiving one another and helping anyone who needs help.  When we love others in honor of God, we are loving God.  The grace of God and the Holy Spirit will help you.  Persist in these things, and on the day our Lord comes again may he say to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

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Daily Bread

Prepare the Way for the Lord

Luke 3:1-20

Key Verse: 3:4

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.

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