The blessing and curse that is pronounced by Jesus is based on two indisputable facts. The first indisputable fact comes from a conversation between Jesus and an Israelite teacher named Nicodemus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3). The sheep are those who have been born again by the Spirit of God. These sheep have been made alive and received the gift of faith; all from God. The goats are those who remain in darkness and “do not obey the Son” and “the wrath of
God remains on him” (Jn 3:36).
The second indisputable fact comes from within Matthew 25. We are given opportunities on a daily basis to interact with the risen Christ, touching him not only in our gathering as saints, but also among the least of these. When we interact with the poor, we experience an integration of heaven and earth. The eternal and temporal. The infinite and finite. Often we are in search of transcendent meaning and purpose during our Christian journey. It is amazing that Christ states this opportunity waits for us. Christ as a homeless man or woman waits to meet us on the freeway exit. Christ waits as sick child in Arkansas Children’s Hospital or in the ICU of your local hospital. Christ waits as a felon in the department of corrections longing for community. Yes, Christ waits as an immigrant who has broken laws in order to find shalom. Reread this list for a moment. In verses 35-39 we need to see that this was not “far off” ministry in which money was sent only. This involved the sheep being in a very close proximity to those in suffering. I believe that what we see here are men and women so transformed by the Gospel their response resembles their Savior. These sheep go forward “proclaiming good news to the poor, recovering of sight to the blind, setting at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk 4). We have the opportunity to experience a preview of new heavens and earth as we meet with the least of these. The indisputable fact is that sheep are not only born again to enjoy God but they will find glimpses of new creation.
In many of our Christian traditions we appropriately teach we can experience the presence of the Trinitarian God in baptism, the Lord’s Table, corporate worship, and Scripture reading. Where are the hungry and thirsty in your city? Who are the homeless and immigrant, the incarcerated and naked which populate your city? Have you seen, spoken and/or touched the least of these? The Scriptures offer us a future reality that we can experience in a tangible way, now. In all of our discussions about “the end times,” “blood moons,” and the “state of Israel,” to usher in the day of the Lord, we have missed the mark, failing to realize we can touch new heavens and earth-the presence of Christ-in the lives of the “least of these.”
Here are the opportunities given to Christians in Arkansas to interact with Christ. In your state 19.7% live at or below the poverty line. Visit your county Sheriff and ask are they in need of bible studies. What elderly homes are in your city that have men and women who are sick and in need of prayer? In Northwest Arkansas and Central Arkansas we have the highest populations of undocumented men, women, and children. How can the Church serve these persons? I assure you that the poor are among us and Christ is calling us to them. Imagine the in-breaking of new creation on a daily basis as individual Christians and groups shift their efforts to be face to face with Jesus himself.
"What will be the result of our interactions with the poor?"
The Gospel of Matthew is the first Gospel in our New Testament. While it was not the first gospel written in our collection of four Gospels, it nonetheless is the record of the ministry of Jesus Christ according to Matthew. Our writer was a former tax collector in the Jewish nation. Matthew, a Jew, was a contract worker for the empire of Rome. He collected more than what was required in taxes, becoming a wealthy man but simultaneously he was viewed as the “other.” His own Jewish people viewed him as a traitor, one of the lowest of society. You can see the disdain that others had for people like him as he was included in a list of undesirables; “tax collectors and sinners.” Yet Jesus Christ chooses Matthew as he is working his profession. His action in choosing a tax collector and eating with a tax collector and these “others,” only confirmed what he told the religious leaders of his day, “Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:13).
If you survey the landscape of Christianity in America regarding eschatology or last things, it can easily be compared to standing in front of your local Redbox at Walmart. You lift up the red screen cover, place your index finger on the screen and begin to scroll through the numerous options.
The options for “purchase” are overwhelming. There are differing millennial views: Pre-Millennial, PostMillennial and A-millennial. There is the futurist view which includes dispensationalism having all of what we read in Revelation and Matthew 24/25 as some time ahead of us; in contrast to the preterist view which has those same events already concluded. Then of course we have even smaller categories to choose from involving the timing of the rapture, the identity of the anti-Christ and “is my social security number just the prequel to the mark of the beast?”
While all of these options have their place in the “Redbox of eschatology,” and should be discussed; what we have missed to our detriment and the detriment of the world are the words of Christ that lead us out of the trailer of the present age and into the new heavens and earth which is the grand motion picture.
I want to specifically address the words of Christ and what I consider a great importance regarding our responsibility to love the poor and its implications in our understanding of eschatology. So this week I want us to consider three questions.
1) What will that day be like when we stand before Christ?
2) What opportunity are we given to interact with Christ now?
3) What will be the result of our interactions?
What will that day be like when we stand before Christ? (Mt 25:31-34; 41)
On this day, not only do we see Jesus, the Son of Man seated on his throne, but also all peoples will be gathered before him. “Before him will be gathered all the nations...” These are not political nations based on how governments divide up territories. These are ethnic groups of the human race. Every ethnicity from every location will be brought together at the throne of their creator and it will be a glorious day. Yet this imagery of the gathering of divided ethnicities then transitions into a division of these same people.
A careful shepherd knows his sheep. He looks among the multitude of creatures and he recognizes those for whom he would freely and joyfully give his life for. He is that shepherd that leaves his gathered 99, to secure his lost 1. Notice it is not the angels who do the separating but it is the Son of Man who separates “people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” I need to ask, “Do you have the certainty, the assurance, that Christ will lead you to his right hand?” The Good Shepherd has laid down his life for his sheep and when the Gospel call goes forth, those that are his sheep will hear his voice and believe. They will not follow the voice of false prophets and those that claim they have some new knowledge which only leads to death. If you hear his voice, I urge you to believe. Follow after this shepherd who says, “I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel...I will feed them with good pasture. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down... I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. And I, the LORD, will be their God...” (Ez 34:13-14, 15, 24).
This will be a glorious day for us. We will behold our God, Savior and King in all his glory. You will be gathered with the saints who have longed to see the coming of their salvation and with new ears you will hear, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But for those that are goats, men and women who are not in community with Christ, it will most certainly be the day of justice. It will be a day of clouds and darkness. You will sadly not hear the gracious words of Christ’s blessings but according to Christ himself he will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
What opportunity are we given to interact with Christ now? (Mt 25:35-36, 42-43)
Last week was pretty interesting. Indiana and my adopted state of Arkansas each passed laws with the intent of protecting religious freedom as it related to private individuals and businesses. Having reviewed the legislation and the recent modifications as it related to Arkansas, it appears the legislation attempts to clarify existing federal law signed by President Bill Clinton. Somehow, and I don’t know how, this legislation was no longer about religious freedom and its protection, but it morphed into another battle about LGBT issues.
Both sides were very passionate about their positions. Let’s be honest, there is a passion residing in people for the ability to practice and speak their religious views just as equally as there are persons about the cultural acceptance of their sexual orientation. It is the reality in which we now live. It is a growing aspect of the culture in the South that is gaining acceptance.
At the same time, I honestly grew weary of groups mischaracterizing the name and mission of Jesus Christ. I get it. All of humanity recoils at the reality that some Jewish poor guy was actually God incarnate. It is much more palatable and much more accepting to have a Jesus who led a nonprofit grassroots organization in the 1st Century that welcomed all people and they sang “Kumbaya,” all day. It made me wonder though if persons that advanced that argument actually believed this in their own lives. So, Jesus was mischaracterized and then this completely ahistorical Jesus was used to denigrate other people as “bigots,” or “You want to Arkansas back to the fifties and sixties.”
I love that last line.
I love that line because it sets up a false narrative. It attempts to equate those who disagree with the behavior of the LGBT community as men and women who are intellectual and ideological descendants of Bull Connor, George Wallace, or Hazel Massery. I have always contended that the LGBT of today is in no way an extension of the Civil Right Movement of the fifties and sixties. I have written elsewhere that this movement today has no origins in the local church as the Civil Rights Movement did. Lastly and most importantly, the LGBT community has not had to suffer under the old thought that they are not human beings. Negroes, Blacks, African Americans were considered less than human, actually property.
This can get me a little fired up so I digress.
How now should faith inform business?
It is intellectually disingenuous to contend that a person’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, has no bearing on how one conducts his or her affairs. I understand where we believe this is supposed to happen. Our dualistic approach of Western living has us wrongly believe that we can separate aspects of our lives into segments. But if you would be honest, if you have a bad morning in your marriage, don’t you take it to work, school, or the gym? You do understand that Steve Jobs worldview completely influences Apple? A President’s worldview shapes his policies. In this context we must consider business and Christian I want to speak directly to you about your vocation as a believer.
Jesus offers us the best instruction to navigate the current waters. Jesus instructs his listeners if someone forces you to go one mile then go two (Matthew 5:41). In the context Jesus deals with retaliation. More specifically, Roman soldiers could by law compel a person under Roman jurisdiction into service. If at some point in your business you are forced to supply a service because of the law, I would call upon you to double that service. Why? This offers you an opportunity to speak the Gospel of grace and disarms the individual of their prejudicial stereotypes about Christians through the activity of love.
Well Phillip, are you not asking me to go against my conscience? No I am not and this is why.
If as a Christian you firmly hold to an interpretation of Scripture that if you were to do otherwise would violate your conscience and lead you to sin. If as a Christian you are firm in that position and not obeying human law would cost your livelihood, your business, and such, then for the sake of Christ, hold fast to your conscience. Or as that great song says,
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
How now should faith inform business? Faith should inform our businesses in such a way that Arkansas sees a Christianity that displays a radical grace and a willingness to lose earthly comforts all for the sake of Christ. For some of us it will mean in full faith going that extra mile to serve in love those who see our position as bigoted. For others it will mean losing our earthly goods in love. On whatever side you may fall, God’s truth, incarnate in Christ, and made powerful by the Holy Spirit leads us to a kingdom that will not end.
America will end because there exist a better and more glorious country. Our strife over legislation that divides us will one day give way to a truly righteous government. All the words we use to beat one another over the head with will be turned into instruments of peace.
America will end one day but his kingdom is forever.