Yesterday we considered the parable of the 10 virgins (Matt. 25:1-12) and the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14—30). These parables fall within a larger context that we sometimes call the Olivet Discourse in which Jesus offers one of His final blacks of teaching to His disciples (Matt. 24:1-25:46). A major emphasis of this section is judgment, beginning with the judgment of Jerusalem and concluding ultimately with the final judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). In order to prepare His disciples for that eventuality, Jesus tells three parables (Matt. 24:45-51; 25:1-13; 25:14-30) with overlapping and expanding points about the need to be prepared. In each parable, there is an expectation, a delay, and a contrast between 2 different types of people who meet two very different outcomes. There are the righteous and the wicked, the prepared and the pretenders, the productive, and the procrastinating. Joy, reward, and feasting await the first category of individuals, but doom, darkness, and destruction will befall the latter. With these parables Jesus was calling His disciples, and Matthew his readers, to patient preparation and production.
Those looking forward to an eternity with the bridegroom/master must begin preparing now to live productive lives utilizing the skills, abilities, resources, and opportunities for the good of the kingdom. Jesus gives us a further picture of what this looks like (Matt. 25:31-46). The people who prepare to live in eternity with Him are those who regularly engage in clothing the poor, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, going to those in prison, etc. Life in between Christ’s ascension to the throne and His return when all is made right and the kingdom is fully and finally His ought to be characterized by being attentive to the needs of others, especially our fellow Christians, and using our time, opportunities, skill, abilities, resources, etc. to meet those needs. One of the distinguishing markers between those who engage in these activities and those who don’t is the ability to “see” the needs of others (Matt. 25:38-40, 44-45). Here are four prescriptions to help us focus our lenses in order that we might “see” better:
- Look inside: Perhaps the reason I don’t see any needs that I could meet is that I don’t see that I can meet a need. We tend to block out a lot of the things we feel no power to help. Certain things just aren’t on our radar. An element of Jesus’ parable of the talents that really stuck out to me was that the master gave to his servants “each according to his ability” (Matt. 25:15). We all have been given skills, opportunities, and resources to be able to do God’s work in this world. My abilities are not your abilities and you will not be judged according to my standard, but each of us Christians has been blessed in our own ways and has the ability to do good in this world. One of the songs that is perennially stuck in my head comes from the kids’ show, Daniel Tiger. It goes, “everyone is big enough, big enough to do something.” I think that is essentially what Jesus is saying. We have all been blessed with a stewardship of sorts and the expectation is that we use it well. I must ask, honestly, and introspectively, what are my talents, my resources, my opportunities that I could use to be in service of others? We may not everything, but every one of us has something. Perhaps we need some help looking inside. Ask a close companion, “what do I have to offer? how can I be of service to others? what are the unique ways that God is purposing to work through me?”
- Look outside: Sometimes the reason we fail to see other’s needs is that we are so wrapped up in our own lives with its attendant necessities. The kids have to get fed, the yard needs to be mowed, bills have to be paid, teeth should probably be brushed (mouthwash might not hurt too), showers should be mandatory at least on a bi-weekly basis (as a modern man I shower at least once, often twice a day) and the list of things we need to do for ourselves goes on and on. The point is not to neglect our own necessities but to make sure we are making time to recognize others. Am I always caught up in my own bubble? Do I ever venture to ask what other people are needing? Do I even time to ask such a question? Perhaps it is the case that many of our “necessities” are not really necessary at all (very few people probably actually need to bath twice a day). Perhaps there are some helpful (and some not so helpful), albeit unnecessary practices that we could and should get rid of so that our lives might be less cluttered with actives and our vision be made clearer to see the needs of others.
- Look “down”: I mean this not of course in the derogatory manner of looking down at another in derision, but rather looking to the lowly of society, the outcasts, the overlooked, especially among God’s people. As Jesus paints a scene of judgment day, both categories of people, the righteous and the wicked, are surprised by His commendation of having taken care of Him. The latter group would argue in essence, “Lord if we had seen you of course we would have cared for you and met your needs!” After all, everybody would surely take notice of their king (Matt. 25:40). Their problem was that they had a blindspot for people lower on the totem pole than of society than them. The surprising truth that Jesus is revealing is that in taking care of the “least of [His] brothers and sisters” they have done it to Him (Matt. 25:40, 45). I need to look down to the overlooked and lift them up with whatever resources or abilities I have. I must train my eyes to see outside of my normal sphere of vision. I must see those I don’t normally associate with. I must see those with whom I have little familiarity. Where are my blind spots?
- Look up: This last one should be obvious. We should be looking up to God praying for opportunities to serve and for clear vision to see needs as they come along. Let us constantly pray for open doors, open hearts, and open hands, ready to serve when He answers. This is one prayer, that you can be certain, He will answer positively. Let’s look and pray, pray, and look.
Yesterday we looked at Paul’s letter to Philemon and how our fellowship of faith transforms our radically reconfigures our relationships. Even with those who have wronged us in some way, love compels us to receive the wholly and completely with open arms, tearing down any barrier that separates us. It pushes us to release others from bondage, whether that be literal or the shackles of our unfair expectations, begrudging attitudes, faulty assumptions, etc. Finally, we must do our part to repair the ruins, especially if we are the ones at fault. We must be willing to forgive and allow nothing to stand between us. Are you holding someone at arm's length? Are there certain people you need to reconcile with? Perhaps there are those whom you have not let in to your life in the first place because of some barrier or obstacle. It should not be so in Christ, let’s make efforts to radically reconfigure our relationships today.
Three quick tips:
- Say something. Start a conversation. Silence just seems to make things worse. It creates a barrier and perpetuates the distance between individuals. It allows feelings to fester.
- Don’t know what to say? How about, “I’m sorry for the ways that I contributed to the tension” or “I really care about you and deeply want our relationship to be restored”? Something that shows you are committed to the other person, the relationship, and making things right.
- Get a mediator. Sometimes people need help coming back together. They need accountability to work it out in a fair and loving way. Their goal is not to be right but to make things right. Having a mediator, like Onesimus and Philemon has with Paul can really help to ease tensions, promote fruitful discussion, and keep both parties accountable to restoring the relationship.
Once in my career, I played a minor role in a modern tragedy that had a father lose his only son. The sound of the parents crying when they knew their child had died, still echoes in my ears. It was impossible not to feel those emotions and empathize with that family. It probably has happened more than once, given that my job often subjects me to being a participant in the final moments of some individual's lives; however, this occasion was one that was abundantly clear to me and will forever remain in the forefront of my mind. I saw, from a later interview on the subject, into the father's mental state after such a loss. It was heart-breaking to visualize. It was impossible not to sympathize with parents facing such a loss.
I remember years ago when my father passed away. I was at the funeral home with my grandparents, who despite my father being almost 50, never saw him as anything else but their little boy. My grandmother turned to me and said this is deeply wrong and the most unnatural thing that can happen to you as a parent. Parents aren't supposed to see their children die.
In movies, we are often given a villain who is trying to get some information from the hero or inflict terrible pain on him or her. They often threaten their children. I recall one of the most moving scenes in cinema in the movie Saving Private Ryan. When movies are done well you know it, because emotionally you forget you are watching something and instead feel it. Early in the movie, Steven Spielberg must make you understand the reason for the rest of the drama and action that is to take place. He does that with one scene where Private Ryan's mother gets news that 3 of her sons have been killed. That realization makes her too weak to stand. You truly feel that pain even if in life you have never lived it. You sympathize with her and hope and pray never to face the same event.
When we read all of the punishments placed upon the children of Israel as they are about to be destroyed and sent off into Babylonian captivity, I cannot find one more punishing than is recorded for us in Jeremiah 15:7. "I made them Childless. He of course is not saying he caused them simply to be barren. Instead, he is telling Jeremiah to let the people who survive know how he is going to decimate their children. The most unnatural thing that can happen is about to happen on a national scale. We think of the anguish when the Egyptians lost their firstborn on a national scale. What must the cry have sounded like that day when all the people felt the same unbelievable pain. 1Cor 10:13 says that there will be no temptation that we cannot bear. This punishment would be one that seems would test anyone's ability to endure.
We know of another case of enduring loss, when Christ our father's only son went to his death on the cross. When such a tragedy befalls us we have no power to stop it or slow it down. However, in the case of Calvary, not only could Jesus have called down 10,000 angels, but God also had the power to stop everything and leave us without hope. He did not alter his promise. He did not spare his son. He loved us too much, so despite the pain that seeing Christ subjected to so much would have caused, God endured it. God felt the unnatural feeling, so we in our sin and filth could feel his love for us. Praise the Lord for his loving favor.
I’ve been listening to the book Dispatches from Pluto writing by an Englishman who translocated to the Mississippi delta to learn more about the area he had come to know through his love of the blues. In his “research”, he found himself at Parchman Prison. As he noted it is impossible to know all there is to know about the delta without learning about something that so dominates the area. During his tour, the Warden explained about death row that then sent all involved down the “rabbit hole” of contemplating their own last supper. For a moment, it sent me considering my own choices. I certainly would select a last meal, although the choices probably would vary or be quite wide-ranging.
However, given our recent study in Luke 22, my mind rapidly moved to a last supper that I am intimately aware of. Our Lord and savior had a last supper. I am not aware of him eating later. While Jesus joined the disciples in the upper room in John 20 and on the beach in John 21, the text does not explicitly state Jesus consumed anything. Therefore, I am led to believe the Passover meal Christ partook of with his disciples recorded in Luke 22 was his last. And as a death row inmate is aware, our Lord was aware of his pending death.
That is why I am so struck by the selection and the desire Christ had to partake in this meal. While much of the Passover meal was prescribed by law, the point to me was that this was Jesus’ desire. He wanted to eat this meal because of its meaning to him and to all of those that ate it. He wanted to share the power of the moment and the memory with this e disciples he had spent so much time with. And he wanted to impact us, his future disciples, with that same impact. He wanted to connect for them and us the power of the sacrifice and the blood. He wanted to recall the power of the lamb’s blood that had spared so many Israelites of the awful pain of losing a firstborn child. He wanted to show the impact his blood would have for them and us. He wanted those emblems, which he left behind for us, to have an impact upon us as we partake if them. And he wanted to remind us all of the future supper that awaits us and that he longs to have again with all of us.
So what do you desire for your last supper? Are your thoughts like mine were initially focused on the physical? If so I suspect you are like the majority of us. Or are you looking to something more impactful and permanent and important as our Savior is?
I really appreciate Joe's thoughts on this. I think viewed through this lens, with all of the significance that Jesus placed in this last meal, perhaps the Lord's Supper is unshackled from the monotony that can often accompany it. The Lord's Supper is at the same time a tragic memorial and a triumphant celebration. It is a reminder and extension of the relationship we have with Him through His blood, and it is the time where we recommit ourselves to Him. And as significant as it is, it is just the appetizer, the Hors d'oeuvres, a tasty morsel of what will be. Of course, we are not talking here about some tasteless bread or the semi-sweet and sometimes bitter cup that we drink. Rather what they symbolize. Every Sunday we get a rich foretaste of the grand banquet that we will have the delight of partaking in with our Savior and the entire community of His people. Oh what a day that will be! Dining and denizening with the Divine.
The crowds hovered around Jesus questioning, marveling, hoping as they listened to Him debate and silence the chief priests, the scribes, and the Sadducees on the temple grounds. Jesus had come into their house and overturned their entire system (quite literally in one instance cf. Lk. 19:45-46). Fuming with rage and oozing with jealously the religious authorities and the leading men sought to detain and destroy Jesus but found no opportunity because of the great esteem He had among the people (Lk. 19:47-48).
Jesus continued to frustrate their efforts and demonstrate the folly of their faith, tied to a particular place, and failing to see God when He stared them in the face (Lk. 20:17). Having been interrogated with a barrage of questions by the authorities Jesus then countered with an interpretive riddle they could not answer (Lk. 20:41-44). The Christ would be the son of David, but he would be so much more than that. He was also David’s Lord. And God was raising him up to crush his enemies. That bit the religious authorities readily accepted, so long as the Christ’s enemies were also their enemies. Little did they realize that they were the ones who stood opposed to Him.
After confounding their minds, Jesus pressed on to condemn their hearts and their hands by pointing out how these men’s piety was really a pretense for their pride and a platform for their social and political gain (Lk. 20:45-47). In seeking to climb higher up the socio-economic ladder they stepped over and stepped on the most vulnerable of society, namely the widows. It is in this moment that Jesus turned and saw through the dust and the crowds someone that no one paid attention to. A widowed woman, who had nothing more than two pennies to rub together. She dropped both into the offering box at the temple, their sound no more discernible than their purchasing power. Meanwhile, many rich men were pouring in bags fulls of coins of great value, clanging loudly as they rattled in. ‘Now these contributions were actually worth something’ some thought as they marveled at the Temple’s grandeur, ‘look what beauty and bounty these can buy’ (Lk. 21:1-5).
They were missing the point. Where they saw great acts of faith, Jesus saw greed. Where they observed piety, Jesus pointed out pride. What they called religiosity, Jesus called robbery (Lk. 19:46). His driving the merchants out of the temple and overturning of their tables had been a foreshadowing, a foreboding portent of a greater upheaval. There would come a day when every one of these magnificent and majestic stones at which the crowd marveled would be overturned (Lk. 21:6). God would not abide their hypocrisy and injustice anymore. The religious elite who had stepped on the backs of widows to attain their positions of power would soon find themselves under the feet of the Christ (Lk. 20:42-43). Their house would be destroyed.
This was perhaps the most scandalous thing that Jesus had said to this point, but the disciples were starting to understand it. They could now see through the thin veil the leaders had pulled over the eyes. ‘When would these things be?’ they asked, ‘and what signs should we be looking for?”
Here is where we need to begin to watch the time markers that punctuate this text. Jesus warns that there will be many who say that the time is near, and rumors of war will excite their ears and terrify their hearts. In other words, ‘the world is going carry on as it always has, but you carry on your way, continue in your business, complete your task. The end is not yet.’ First, the disciples must bear witness about Jesus while being turned over by friends and family, rejected by those who continued to remain obstinate in their rebellion. As they faced the same rejection as their Christ to which they testified, the cup of wrath was being filled up against the leaders in Jerusalem and all aligned with them. Given ample opportunity to repent, and remaining as rebellious as ever Jerusalem would soon find themselves surrounded by enemies, ready to be trampled underfoot (Lk. 21:20-24, cp. 20:42-43).
Up to this point in the story, we remain pretty confident that we get the gist of what is being said, but here things start to take a turn, and questions and confusion abound. Jesus begins to use cosmic language and apocalyptic imagery and thus we might begin to think that He has shifted from the destruction of Jerusalem to another topic entirely. He hasn’t. This language, while exciting and novel to us was the way that the ancients would’ve expressed a major change in world orders, the rising up of new kings, or the overthrow of powerful kingdoms. We hear this language and are prone to think of THE end of the world at the end of history, when in fact the Bible uses this sort of language to describe events that occur within history that while significant, are something less than the final end of the entire world. Read the oracle of judgment against Babylon in Isaiah 13. Nations rise up, the sound of tumults are heard, God is purposing to destroy “the whole earth,” the stars, the sun, and the moon all turn dark, the heavens and the earth tremble and “the world” is punished for its evil. That Jesus picks up on this language here prepares us for the possibility that something less than the end of the world might be in view.
However, we face another hurdle at this point, because Jesus begins talking about the coming of the Son of Man with the clouds. Surely this is a reference to the second coming and the end of the world, right?! This comes straight from Daniel 7 where Daniel sees a vision of “one like a son of man” coming with the clouds approaching the “Ancient of Days”, defeating the beasts which represent the enemy nations, and being given an every lasting reign that would never be destroyed. At base, it is a text about the king reigning over His enemies. Now, like the cat who hides under the chair with his tail sticking out, hopefully, some of what is hidden is starting to become obvious. Already, Jesus has referenced Him sitting enthroned over His enemies (Lk. 21:42-43). The question is when would this happen? Like the cat’s tail sticking out, we see a glimpse of what will ultimately take place. This is already beginning in the events of Jesus’ day as He silences His enemies. Continuing to follow the time markers in Luke 21, Jesus says to His disciples that these are signs that they will observe. The king will reign over His enemies in their lifetime, their time of redemption is near (Lk. 21:28)!
Jesus drives this point home by telling a parable about trees, leaves, and fruit. When the leaves begin to sprout, it is evidence of something coming to fruition. So too when the disciples faced the persecution, bore testimony to Jesus, and eventually saw the armies surrounding Jerusalem they would know that the time was near, the kingdom was at hand, the Son of Man was at work in defeating His enemies. All of these things would happen before that present generation passed away (Lk. 21:32). The real scandal in all of this was that the Son of Man would come to destroy not Nineveh, Babylon, Athens, or Rome, but that He would come on this occasion to destroy Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, the height of the Jewish culture and religion.
So this text is not about the final end of the world, at least not primarily or directly. It is about the destruction of Jerusalem, cast in apocalyptic language, as with many previous judgments and this would happen during the lifetime of Jesus’ disciples. Derivatively, however, it foreshadows, as all judgment scenes do, the final judgment for which we must all be ready. Let us “stay awake at all times, praying that [we] may have the strength to escape [the judgment] and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk. 21:36).