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Monday, April 7, 2014

Lamb of God: The Bridegroom, Master, and Shepherd


Matthew 24-26 

As I was reading my Bible, God drew my attention to Matthew 25. In particular, He drew me to look at the parable of the 10 virgins. I learned from this passage many times in my life, so I thought I understood it. In Bible training, my teachers taught me to look at the passage being studied in context with the rest of the chapter, not in isolation, so I read the rest of the chapter. Matthew 25 tells us three parables: the 10 virgins, the servants and the talents, and the sheep and the goats. My mind queried that there must be something Jesus taught the people before using these parables, because parables are used to help get a message across in a story fashion. So, I looked back at Matthew 24. In Matthew 24, Jesus taught the disciples concerning the end times. The parables of chapter 25 are stories to help learn a lesson regarding the end times. I then recalled that after these parables, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Passover meal before His betrayal (Matthew 26:17-29, Mark 14:12-21, and Luke 22:7-23). My questions then are: 1) what do the three parables in Matthew 25 have to do with the time of Jesus’ telling, 2) with the future of Jesus’ second coming, and 3) with us today.

Let us look at this closer. The parable of the ten virgins tells us of10 young women who went to wait for the bridegroom at the place of the wedding. They were to be part of the party celebrating the bridegroom’s arrival. The groom did not arrive as soon as they expected and so they had to wait. The virgins waited so long that they slept part of the time. They awoke with a start when they heard the groom had arrived and the celebrations were to begin. Five of the virgins had prepared well and brought extra oil for their lamps. Five of the virgins did not prepare for the potential long wait for the groom. This parable tells us that we should not be caught unaware, but always be prepared for Jesus return to earth because we do not know when He is coming. The lesson of this parable is about being prepared. Many people claim to be followers of Jesus, yet they do not prepare themselves for His return. They easily followed Jesus when first introduced to Him, but then grew lax and perhaps did not grow further in their relationship with Him. These unprepared five virgins stand for those who at first claimed to follow Jesus because of the emotion and momentum of the moment, but were not really in a relationship with Him. They did not have a true faith in Him as the Son of God who provides salvation. They did not pursue Him, grow in faith, and have a relationship with Him. These five virgins’ lax belief led them to not prepare themselves to grow deeper in relationship with Jesus. They were unprepared for Bridegroom’s return (Jesus’ second coming). The bridegroom disowned them because he did not recognize them. The gist of this parable is about being prepared for Jesus’ return at any time. If you are not a true follower of Jesus, you will be caught off-guard when He returns to take His followers to heaven. You cannot prepare for His return if you are not His follower.

This parable supplements Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 verses 12-13, 39, 42, and 44. Jesus told the disciples that because of increased lawlessness, people’s love of Him will grow cold and they will fall away. He reminded them that in the time of Noah many people chose not believe until the flood came then they drowned. Jesus told them it would be the same with the return of the “Son of Man.” Jesus spoke in terms for their time. He also spoke concerning preparation for the Passover in the upper room (Matthew 26). He sent disciples to prepare a room for the Passover. They did not fathom that Jesus would transform the Passover’s meaning. The disciples did not know this Passover was His last meal with them before His arrest and crucifixion. Jesus prepared the way for them to hear of the new Passover, Jesus as the sheep who would die to remove all their sins forever. In the actions of sending the disciples to Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover, Jesus began preparations for telling the disciples of the new meaning of what they called Passover. Preparation is the key to this parable and is a key to being a follower of Jesus. No one knows the time of His return, but He will return. We cannot say that we will make a decision later regarding following Christ, because we do not apperceive when He will return, just as the 10 virgins did not apprehend when the bridegroom (analogy for Christ) would arrive. Each of us must be prepared and preparation requires deciding to follow Jesus, allowing our faith to show in actions, and growing in our relationship with Him.

The second parable in Matthew 25 concerns the three servants to whom the master gave talents (money) to manage while the he was away. The first two servants kept the master’s money safe and grew it so that when the master returned they could return the original money with added coins (growth). They worked for the master to his benefit in his absence. The master rewarded them with more talents and power in his kingdom. The master gave the third servant one talent. He was a beginner in the master’s trust and training program. Because the servant was afraid of losing the money, he hid it in the ground. The servant did not invest the talent and let it grow. The talent did not grow as the talents of the other two servants did. This servant did nothing to make growth occur. He did not believe in himself. He did not pursue growth by learning how to make the talent grow and doing it. The servant was more afraid than concerned of gaining the master’s approval. His fear kept him from doing learning and growing. The servant allowed his fear, which comes from Satan, to make him stale and become like the barren fig tree, which Jesus cursed. Did the servant follow the ways his mater taught him? Did he commit to grow to be more like his master? Did the servant take care of the master’s household, which included the master’s people, all other assets? His life did not show confidence in his relationship with his master, confidence in himself, and actions of faith by investing the talent. The master rejected this servant as a faithful servant and threw him out of his kingdom. The key word for this parable is doing, not that you can earn your salvation. You must choose to believe and trust in the master and choose to grow in your relationship with him.

Matthew 24 speaks to this parable. It says in verses 45-46, “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.” The slave in Matthew 24 is busy doing for the master to others. This slave made sure he fed everyone and grew more like the master. He ensured the master’s household ran well. The third servant in the parable did not do that. That servant had not grown to be trustworthy or mature. His fear, which he held to and came from Satan, stunted his faith and growth. We see this on the day of Passover with Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 26. Judas chose to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16, 21-25). Judas feared not having money and being tortured, as Christ said His disciples would be (Matthew 24:9-10). Judas did not choose to follow Jesus with his whole life, but chose what was easiest for himself. We can choose to follow Jesus. We also choose whether to grow to be more like Him and to act out our faith to others by showing Jesus’ care and love for people. Jesus told the disciples when they give food, drink, clothes, shelter or visit the sick and those imprisoned, they are doing it also for Him (Matthew25:43-46). We each choose to follow Jesus and to enact our faith in Him with love for others.

The final parable Jesus taught to His disciples in Matthew 25 concerns the separating of the sheep and goats in the flock. This parable concerns following Jesus with your whole being, not just lip service. Both sheep and goats say “baa” but not all of them are sheep (analogy for Christ followers). Upon looking at their deeds, growth, and hearts, Jesus determined the true followers (sheep) and the goats (analogy for non-followers of Christ). He condemned the goats to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). What makes a person a sheep in God’s flock and not a goat? Jesus told them if they fed, offered drink, clothed, and housed unfortunate people and visited the sick and imprisoned, they were His true followers. By doing these things, they did them to Him. In this parable, Jesus spoke of true followers and what made a person a true follower. True followers enact Jesus’ love toward other people. To do this, they must be in a close relationship with Jesus so that the love He gave them flows out in actions of love to other people. It shows itself in the follower’s growth to be more Christlike, too. This parable deals with following Christ.

In Matthew 24, Jesus’ teaching in verses 48-51 tells us that if the servant beats others, takes all things for himself, and becomes drunk with power and the master’s provisions, he is not a follower of Jesus. He will receive punishment and be put with the other hypocrites, separated from God forever. Jesus taught the disciples in chapter 24 that no one knows the day or time of his second coming. Each disciple must follow Christ devoutly whether He returns soon or later. If, when Jesus returns, He finds his “servant” not acting with love toward others and instead finds him drunk with power and greed, he is not a true follower of Jesus. We find this same thing in chapter 26 before Jesus arrives at the upper room for Passover. The chief priests and elders (hypocrites) plotted to arrest Jesus (Matthew 26:3-5). They did not want the acclaim they earned as the most devout followers of Yahweh to go to Jesus. His claiming to be the Messiah turned people away from looking at them to Him. They wanted their favor restored to them and the way they thought to do this was to arrest and rid them of Jesus forever. They never claimed to be followers of Jesus, but they claimed to be followers of Yahweh. Judas claimed to be a disciple of Jesus, but joined hands with the chief priests and elders. He was a hypocrite and not a true follower. The key lesson in this parable concerns whether a person is truly a follower of Jesus Christ.

Being a follower of Jesus encompasses each of these elements – preparing, doing, and following. None can occur without the other, but Jesus taught on each element separately so the disciples could understand better each one. To become a follower Jesus means you must seek for Him. Matthew said in chapter 7 verse 7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” Jesus makes Himself available to us whenever we ask for Him. John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord so others would recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Old Testament prophets prepared the way of the Lord, too. We must prepare ourselves and seek for Jesus and He will make Himself to be visible for you. You also must prepare yourself daily to continue to follow Him and to grow more like Him. You cannot say one day you are a follower and later show no change in your life. This kind of person is similar to the five foolish virgins who said they were followers, but did not prepare themselves for His arrival.

Preparing ourselves also means doing. We prepare ourselves to be a follower of Jesus by recognizing our sinfulness, confessing our sins, and repenting. To repent means to turn 180 degrees away from sin and turning to God. So we do confess and we do repent everyday so that we stay in a close relationship with Jesus because God cannot be in the presence of sin. Unconfessed sin builds a wall between God and us. Each sin becomes a new brick in the wall between Him and us. As followers of Jesus, we do for others as we want Jesus do for us (Matthew 7:12). Remember that from the Lord’s Prayer? Jesus taught it, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40). Following God is preparing yourself for being with Him each day and doing, acting out His love to others. Just as Jesus came to release the captives, give sight to the blind, set free the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord” (Luke 7:18), His followers are to love others as He loved them by feeding, clothing, and sheltering the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and telling the world of His love and salvation given. Being a follower of Jesus means doing and preparing.

Lest anyone say he or she is a follower, Jesus clarified who a follower is. A follower is one who watches for the Lord’s coming. A follower is one who continues to act out the Lord’s love in them toward others while they wait for the second coming of the Lord. Being ready for the Lord means seeking and watching for His second coming and continuing to do what He taught and commanded His disciples while He walked on earth before His ascension to heaven. A faithful, thoughtful, and wise servant (follower) of Jesus is one whom gives food and supplies to others at the proper time. The servant is blessed when Jesus returns and finds him doing these things out of love for Jesus and through the love Jesus put into him or herself toward other people (Matthew 25:44-46). Doing is being ready within yourself for Christ’s return and doing for others until He returns. This following then requires preparing oneself to be with the Lord every day – praying, confessing, becoming more Christlike – and doing – feeding, clothing, telling and teaching of Jesus to others.

The five foolish virgins were not true followers of Christ. The one foolish servant was not a true follower of Christ. They lacked preparation and diligence to know, grow, and show Jesus within their lives.

We each must decide if we are similar to the foolish virgins, foolish servant, and goats. We must decide if we will seek after God to know Him through His Son, Jesus. We must decide if we will prepare ourselves daily to meet with God and grow more Christlike. Each of us must decide whether we will live to serve others from the love Jesus put in our hearts or be power-hungry and greedy. The latter is like the foolish servant and the goats.

Will you seek for God? Will you allow Jesus to speak to your heart, mind and soul? Will you accept His forgiveness and gift of eternal life, which comes through His death and resurrection? The Jewish Passover celebrated God’s Spirit passing over their houses (because they spread lamb’s blood on the lintels of their doors as a sign of their belief in Yahweh) when He was exacting His promise of condemnation against the Egyptians. It is a celebration of God’s saving power. Jesus gave Passover a new meaning. Jesus is the Lamb whose blood is spread over the doors of our lives (our hearts, minds, and souls) so that God’s condemnation of death does not touch us because we are true followers of the Messiah.

What do you choose to be – a true follower or a foolish, unprepared, hypocritical servant? We each have a choice to make every day whether we are a follower of Christ or not. The decision is ours to make - follow Christ and grow more like Him or walk in our own ways with our own foolish wisdom. What do you choose?