Lent #4 – Parables about Judgement
Reading: Matthew 25:1-40
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
In the last of our series on “Parables Perspectives” we are faced with three confronting parables about judgement and the end times. During Lent we are considering how the parables of Jesus can help us give us a different insight of the cross and in this video our pastor Phil asks the question … “Does God judge us?” and if so, “What does God judge us on?” In the usual TUC style, we wrestle with the complexities of these three parables from Matthew 25 and encouraged to apply these perspectives to our lives and our understanding of the Easter gospel.
Handouts and Extra Material.
- Living the Word – Context and Connections
- Kids Stuff Activity Sheet
Bible Study Material
Today is the fourth week of Lent 4 – and because we are heading down to South Turramurra next week … it is actually the last in our series on Parable Perspectives. The initial plan was to split Matthew 25 over two weeks but because of our visit next week we are doing all this chapter today … hence the LONG bible reading!
If you remember right back at the beginning of the year I shared the structure of the gospel of Matthew – how Matthew groups the teaching of Jesus around 5 discourses and how these sections have broad themes. If you did not pick it up in the bible reading, we have moved into the 5th discourse – the eschatological discourse which explores teaching about judgement and the end times. And as many of the commentators I have been reading this week have expressed, these parables and the concepts behind them are complicated and challenging.
So, I would like to approach today’s time of learning together in two ways. Firstly, lets spend some time talking about how we understand the end time or the concept of judgement and then after that we will come back and look at each of the three parables. While this topic of judgement and end times might cause some of us to feel anxious or worried, I hope that by the end of this time we might also feel some assurance and hope.
How does that sound?
Let me start with a simple yes/no question. There are loads of verses in the bible that tell us not to judge each other, but my question is “Will (or does) God judge us?”
As much as we would like to hold onto the idea that a loving, gracious, forgiving God will just say to us all – “hey no judgement here, its ok, it doesn’t matter” … there are just too many verses and passages in the Bible that talk about the judgement of God. So, I think we need to answer … Yes, God will/does judge us.
A slightly more trickier question is “when” … as you can already see, I have having trouble wording my questions depending on whether we think divine judgement is something in the future – at the end of days – or something that happens all the time, including right now. Acts 17:31 tells us that God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice. Whether that day is in the future, at the end of days or now … doesn’t really matter. That fact is that God will judge / is already judging…
So then, the more complicated question is “how”? How will God judge us? What are the criteria that God will use to decide if we pass judgement at all. This is the real critical question, isn’t it? We need to know the details of how God judges.
The simple answer we have been taught since Sunday School is that we are saved by Grace, that God will judge us on our faith in Jesus and our acceptance of Jesus as saviour and Lord. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Or as Jesus explains in John 3, we are judged on whether we believe in him [Jesus] as the light of the world. Paul in Romans 10:9 words it like this, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
So – we are judged on our faith in Jesus, right?
OR … is it that we are judged on our actions, on what we do during our earthly life? The last book in the Bible, Revelation has a vision of the end times and in chapter 20 verse 12 we read, 2
Or Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
How can the bible give us different ideas on how we will be judged? Our three parables of today from Matthew 25 also give us different understandings on how we are judged.
In the parable of the bridesmaids, they were judged on whether they were there and waiting at the moment the bridegroom returns. It didn’t matter the reason … if you drifted away at the wrong moment, you were excluded.
Or what about the line the bridegroom used in verse 12 for not opening the door to the latecomers – “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” Jesus also used this line in Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
So will we be judged on how well Jesus knows us?
Or what about the parable of the talents. On the surface that parable could imply that we will be judged on how well we do with the investment that God puts into our lives … that if God will at some point want to “settle the accounts” with us and we will be judged on how our ability to produce a return. Jesus says something similar in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
And in our last parable, Jesus literally separates the sheep from the goats depending on whether they responded with kindness and help to the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned. That we are judged on our compassion.
Are you keeping up with this? What do we make of it all?
One theological idea that I have found helpful to sort through the judgement of God is the concept of the two judgements. That the first judgement is about salvation, whether we are right with God or not. And this judgement has nothing to do with works but rather to do with our faith in Jesus, our relationship with Jesus. This is the Eph 2 idea or Jesus saying, “I never knew you”. Because of our faith in Jesus, we are not condemned and receive life, both now and eternally.
However, this the idea of the two judgements is that after we are saved and blessed with eternal life, we will still get to stand before the throne of Jesus and be judged on what we have done (or not done). This judgement is not about salvation but is more about an acknowledgment our actions and compassion DO matter to God. The bible talks about rewards being things like crowns but really, I just want Jesus to say in the second Judgement, “Well done good and faithful servant”
The passage that helps me with this theory is 1 Cor 3:10-15. Paul is describing how we are all building a spiritual house, BUT Paul writes, “each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (That’s the salvation by faith bit … we are saved if our foundation is in Jesus. But Paul goes on…)
12 “If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. (This is the second judgement … the quality of the house is a reflection on what we have done or not done. Paul concludes…)
14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved”.
Are you still keeping up with this? You see, the reason I talked about the theory of the two judgements is that if we embrace the idea that we are already saved by faith, that through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have forgiveness and we made right with God … then we can have the assurance that we are saved and are blessed with life – both now and eternally. We don’t have to be worried about that.
AND, if we then embrace this idea of the second judgement being assessed on how we have responded to God’s gift of salvation … then it actually helps us to make a bit more sense of these parables in Matthew 25. For example, if we take the parable of the talents. If we understand that salvation is a process of “settling accounts” and “return from investment” it goes against the whole we are not saved by works idea.
But if we view this parable as referring to “those who are already saved by faith” … then the judgment becomes, how have we responded to all the love, grace, forgiveness and blessings that God has given us? Have we used this blessing to be a blessing to others or have we buried it in the ground?
I am not saying that this is the only way to understand this parable, but I find it a helpful one.
You can do the same with the parable about the sheep and the goats. We read in verse 31, ““When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne … all he will sperate the people one from another”. If we understand that “the people” is the people who are already saved, those who have their foundation in Jesus, then the judgement about whether we fed the hungry or clothed the naked is a legitimate question to those who have already experienced the fullness of God’s grace and love.
(I know it doesn’t work with or explain the eternal fire and punishment references in verses 41 and 46 … it is not a perfect theory). But still, what it does do it change this parable from something that might make us fearful for not doing enough to being a parable that encourages us to do more!
But let’s finish on the parable of the bridesmaids because it is hard, even with this different perspective. As one of my favourite commentators expressed, “I do not like this parable at all because I believe in a God who invite all, welcomes all and includes all – and this parable just smacks of exclusion”.
And she is right.
The issue in the parable was not that the bridesmaids didn’t respond to the invitation – all 10 of them were there waiting to enter but because the bridegroom took so long, 5 of them ran off to get more oil and in a case of bad timing, missed the moment of return – and even when they cried out to be let in, they were excluded.
We will wrestle with this parable more at our last Lenten bible study on the 29th but how do we understand this passage? We all need to be constantly prepared because Jesus is taking forever to return? To be honest there are numerous of different ideas, theories and sermons on explaining this passage – google is your friend if you wish to know more.
However, I would like to share today one perspective from Nadia Boltz Webber – an amazing preacher and theologian from the states. She looked at this logically and was running into problems. It is the middle of the night, the groom is late and the delay means they need to top up their oil lamps. 5 have extra oil and 5 don’t. Ok, so why wouldn’t the 5 who have share with the 5 who have not? I thought Jesus wanted us to help each other? And what is the problem of only having 5 lamps instead of 10. There is still light, so why did they need more oil?
Nadia suggests that the foolish Bridesmaids are foolish, not for falling asleep or not having enough oil but listening to the other bridesmaids tell them what to do and they were certainly foolish for doing it. To be honest, I can’t preach this as good as Nadia can, so I am going to show a video of the next part of her sermon.
Nadia – 2 mins
I love how we have taken a parable that initially spoke of judgement and exclusion that now speaks of our need for Jesus and embracing what Jesus offers. I love how we took a parable that might have stirred up fear or anxiety within us and now it reminds us that Jesus is all we need and to trust in Jesus.
And maybe that’s what God wants to remind us today as we wrestle with the whole issue of judgement. Judgement doesn’t have to be something we live in fear of.
The good news of Easter shows us that through Jesus’ death and resurrection we can have the assurance that we are saved.
Don’t listen to the voices of this world saying that you need to solve this yourself … just rely on Jesus and embrace his light.
Do you have this assurance that you are saved?
Let me make this clear … using Romans 10:9
Can you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”
Do you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, Then you are saved.
Do not fear the judgement of salvation. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. And now, in response to all that God has done for you in Jesus, in response to this gift of salvation … let’s reflect our gratitude in all that we do. Let’s not bury this grace and love in the ground but double it as we share it with others. Let’s feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give to the least of these because in doing so we are showing our thanks to Jesus. Amen