T0.itle: Evidence of Grace
Text: Matthew 25:31-46
FCF: We often struggle showing sacrificial love to Christ-Followers.
Prop: The Righteous Judge will soon come and divide the sheep from the goats, so we must be sure we have been graced.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 25. Last week we saw the last parable in the Olivet discourse. I mistakenly said that Jesus concludes his Olivet discourse with two parables, but as I found this week in my study, this last section is not really a parable at all.
Since the middle of chapter 24, Jesus has been focusing on preparing His disciples for His return. He wants them to be ready. That readiness has been expressed in several ways. But last week specifically, that readiness was encouraged not because of the timing of His coming, but rather because of the nature of His coming. That His coming will bring both great reward and terrible judgement.
This week we will see this theme come through again. But this time not in a parable. In fact, this is probably the most plain and literal Jesus has been in the entire Olivet Discourse. He finishes out this 2 chapter discourse with a rather vivid and to the point explanation of the judgment. A final encouragement and warning to all who would claim to be His disciples.
I’m in Matthew 25, I’ll start reading in verse 31. I am reading from the NET and you can follow along in the pew bible on page 1124 or in whatever version you have. If you don’t have a bible of your own, you can take the pew bible as your own.
Let’s dive right in, there is much to see this morning.
I.) The Righteous Judge will soon come and give the graced the kingdom, so we must be sure we have been graced.
a. [Slide 2] 31 – When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
i. Is this the same coming of the Son of Man that Jesus has been talking about up to this point?
ii. Why do I ask? Well there are several extra little details here that make it seem like Jesus is talking about a different time than his “coming in the clouds to gather the elect”
1. He is coming with angels now but before he sent his angels ahead of him to collect the elect from the four winds.
2. Never before did he mention anything about sitting on a glorious throne
iii. Contextually speaking Jesus could have been speaking generally about his return, but here he is speaking about the results of that return. Which will be ultimately the judgment of the nations.
iv. So here are your options.
1. If this is the same return he has been talking about the whole time, you are probably seeing this more through the eyes of an amillennialist or post postmillennialist. This is all one return Jesus has been foretelling, and that return will end in judgment.
2. But if there are different aspects or phases to this return, then you are probably seeing this more through the lens of a premillennialist in their various stripes. Jesus is talking here probably about the ultimate fulfillment of His return.
v. Whichever direction you wish to go, ultimately what Jesus is teaching here at the end of his discourse does not depend on what eschatological position you hold. Imagine that!
b. [Slide 3] 32 – All the nations will be assembled before Him, and He will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
i. As Ryan pointed out when he preached this passage –shepherds would allow goats and sheep to graze together in 1st Century Israel, but they would not allow them to sleep together. As they came in from the field. The shepherd would insure that the goats and sheep would go to where they belong.
ii. It is difficult to know exactly what the word “nations” means. On the one hand, in scripturethe word is typically used when referring to gentiles, or non-Jewish peoples.
iii. Therefore, Jesus could be recounting a non-Jewish judgment day.
iv. However, Matthew is writing to Jews, and Jesus speaking to His disciples which are Jews. It seems odd that he would tell them about a time of judgment they would not be part of. Odder still it would be for Jesus and Matthew to finish this discourse with this promise and warning for Non-Jewish people.
v. It seems better to understand all nations to mean all people. All nations. All tribes. And perhaps we could even go so far as to say – all people of all time.
vi. Therefore, this feels less like a reference to a particular judgment within a set of judgments, but rather a general reference to ultimate judgement – with Jesus taking the Judge’s chair. It is important for us to understand in this passage that this is a courtroom scene. And so we must read it as such. More on that in a moment.
c. [Slide 4] 33 – He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.
i. Right hand in Near eastern culture is always a position of honor and favor.
ii. Left hand is not necessarily a position of dishonor or shame, but is not the preferred place of the right.
iii. So already the Judge has made His decision. He has separated by two different verdicts.
iv. Now He will give His verdict to the sheep on the right.
d. [Slide 5] 34 – Then the king will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
i. Jesus not so subtly calls himself King here. Did you notice that? A Jew would have.
ii. And there are other BIG details in this verse we need to notice.
iii. Let’s break down the sentence grammatically. He issues to them two commands. But these commands are inseparably linked. You cannot have one without the other.
iv. He commands them to come and Inherit the kingdom. That is the basic sentence. The extra details will contribute to this two-fold command.
v. You who are blessed by my Father – blessed, although this is a different word than the one used in the beatitudes, a word we substituted with “graced”, the word here only gets closer to that meaning. This too means to be graced. To be shown favor, blessing, or given aid. Grace or graced is an appropriate term to put in the place of blessed. Only those who have been given grace from God will inherit the Kingdom.
vi. It is important that we understand that Jesus is not saying Grace and meaning Mercy. Mercy is when God does NOT give us what we have earned. Jesus is not saying enter into the kingdom you who have been forgiven of sin. He is saying enter into the kingdom you who have been given something you could never have earned.
vii. It is also important to note that “blessed” is a perfect tense participle. Meaning that this is a characteristic of the sheep that was made true at some point in time and has ongoing and perhaps even amplifying effects on them that have continued to the exact moment that Jesus commands them to come. They have been shown favor, they are being shown even more favor, and will continue to be shown more and more favor.
viii. We also learn here that God has prepared this kingdom for those to which He is giving grace. It was designed for them. And when did God design it? Before time, space, matter. Before creation. Before humanity.
ix. These two components in this passage are important for us. God prepared before the foundation of the world, a kingdom, that would be inherited (not earned) by those to which He would give and continue to give Divine Favor. Why is this significant?
1. Some have attempted to understand the doctrine of election and foreknowledge by explaining that God, by His foreknowledge of all events, saw who would choose to follow Him if given the opportunity, and therefore He chose them to be His own. Not only does this misunderstand what foreknowledge means in Romans 8, but it exchanges the elector with the elected. Suddenly God’s grace, by which we are saved, is based solely on our choice. Such an explanation turns the doctrine of grace upon its head, and what was unearned favor becomes earned favor. This passage refutes such a teaching. Grace is not earned. God’s grace is not contingent on our choice. Not by decision, action, or pursuit. Grace is given, and the kingdom inherited. You cannot earn an inheritance; you must simply be in the right family. And what family you are in has nothing to do with what you want and everything to do with who your parents are, or who is willing to adopt you.
2. Friends, if you are saved – God favored you based on His own will, for His own purpose, and prepared for you, before time began, a place in His kingdom. Why? Because of the good pleasure of His will. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus – you must be reborn – into a different existence – a different family.
3. Now with that it opens up a whole host of questions, which we simply don’t have time to answer today.
4. But I’d ask that you search the scriptures. The bible is clear. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 says God chose Israel to be His people among the other nations. And He did not choose them for any other reason than because He loyally chose to show love to them. Most people are ok with God choosing Israel this way because it doesn’t affect them.
5. In Ezekiel 36:22-32 God hints at a future covenant for all people- and the nature of that covenant, the NEW COVENANT – would be based on the purpose and will of God and not on them or their choice.
6. And that New Covenant has been revealed and as Paul tells us in Ephesians 1 God chose His elect the same exact way. There is no difference.
7. And when He chooses based on the good pleasure of His will – He gets all the glory for our redemption, and we cannot boast.
x. Jesus continues His speech to the sheep.
e. [Slide 6] 35-36 – For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
i. The word “for” can be translated a variety of ways and it is difficult to know perhaps how this sentence is related.
ii. Based on other passages of scripture we can conclude that this “for” is not the cause of all that was said in verse 34. If it was the reason or the cause of verse 34 being true, then the sheep earn their inheritance by loving Christ.
iii. It can be translated “for indeed” or “seeing” which would put this in an evidentiary perspective. In other words, verse 34 is true, and the evidence that it is true is verses 35-36. This seems to be the best understanding based on the broader scope of scripture.
iv. So we have to follow what is happening here grammatically.
1. Jesus is commanding this group of people at His judgement throne to inherit the kingdom.
2. He comments that what they have in common is that they have been shown favor from God that has an ongoing and amplifying affect.
3. That is the King’s verdict.
4. Now the King explains why He has rendered such a verdict. Why has He found them to be favored of God and therefore worthy to take this inheritance?
v. If we were to summarize all these things we would easily conclude that he is talking about caring for those with the most basic of needs. The times when a person would have been at the bottom. Not simply poor, but destitute.
vi. This is the evidence for the verdict He pronounced. This is one manifestation of divine favor on their lives. They cared for Him when He was destitute.
vii. But the ones on the right are perplexed by this statement.
f. [Slide 7] 37-39 – Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘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 naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
i. Basically they express their confusion. But their confusion is not at the verdict. They are not confused as to why they will enter the Kingdom. Rather they are confused on the evidence presented.
ii. How we treated you is evidence we are blessed… by we don’t remember seeing you and we don’t remember meeting your need!
iii. This needs explaining.
g. [Slide 8] 40 – And the King will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’
i. The King explains what he meant by these evidences of God’s grace.
ii. When the sheep care for the least, they do it as if it was done for the King Himself.
iii. The words “my brothers or sisters” is not an address. In other words Jesus is not calling the righteous His brothers and sisters and then saying, when you did this to the least.
iv. Grammatically Jesus is saying when you helped the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.
v. This is important to note, because Jesus is not saying that an evidence of God’s grace is that the church loves the least in society, although that is certainly something we should be doing.
vi. He is saying that an evidence of God’s grace is that they loved the least of His followers.
vii. Jesus said, they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another. And we see the early church in Acts 2. Doing exactly that. None had a need that was not met.
h. [Slide 9] Passage Truth: So what is Jesus telling His disciples and Matthew the Jews? One day the judgment will come and God will separate His elect from the pretenders. He will righteously determine who goes where. If they are graced, they will inherit His Kingdom.
i. Passage Application: Jesus graciously gives to His 12 disciples one evidence that they have been shown favor from God. And it is that when they love one another, they show their love for Him. Such love for Him can only come from a heart that has been shown grace.
j. [Slide 10] Broader Biblical Truth: So for us, in a full bible context we can draw out this truth that the Kingdom of God is coming and will only be open to those whom God has graced. And evidence for that grace being in us is that we will love others who are in Christ and in so doing show that we love Christ.
k. Broader Biblical Application: So how can we apply such things today? Although we’ll take a deeper look at this later, we must understand that one of the central concepts of the church is our sacrificial and genuine love for one another. That in our darkest and most destitute hour, the body of Christ mourns with those who mourn. We rejoice with those who rejoice. We are connected with one another because we are all connected to Christ.
[Slide 11 (blank)] But what of the goats? What of those on the left? Those who pastured with us, but cannot enter into the same rest? What will become of them, and why?
II.) The Righteous Judge will soon come and give the cursed eternal punishment, so we must be sure we have been graced.
a. [Slide 12] 41 – Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels.
i. What a perplexing contrast.
ii. What is commanded of the ones on the left? The goats?
iii. Not come – Depart. Not blessed - but cursed. Not a personally prepared unearned plan, but an impersonally prepared earned punishment.
iv. Unlike the sheep that could not earn but were given God’s ongoing and amplifying favor, the goats had earned God’s eternal wrath.
v. Unlike the sheep whose inheritance was prepared for them before all things, the goat’s go to a realm that isn’t theirs, and wasn’t meant for them.
vi. But why – why do they join the fate of the devil and his angels? Well like the devil they are accursed. He is the cursed one and they are accursed. They are full of loathing and shame, evil and doom. They join him because they are like him. They join him because he is their father, not in the sense of ownership or possession, but in the sense of likeness and similarity. They are the seed of the serpent.
vii. And what is the evidence of this? How are they like their father the devil?
b. [Slide 13] 42-43 – 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 receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.
i. Remember that the serpent and his seed would oppose the woman and her seed?
ii. The verdict has been rendered to them, because they have shown themselves to be of their father the devil, seed of the serpent, because they oppose the Son. The true descendant of the woman.
iii. But the goats too are confused.
c. [Slide 14] 44 – Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’
i. But their questions are not like the righteous one’s questions.
ii. The righteous are shocked that they obeyed. They didn’t remember caring for Him. Because they did not associate the care of His followers with caring for Him. They simply did what was in their nature to do.
iii. The cursed though, their questions have a subtle change. Do you see in verse 44 how they are shocked that they disobeyed.
iv. This is the heart of the accursed. In arrogance they conclude that if they had seen Him, they surely would have given Him whatever He needed. Their answer is, “So you see Lord, you are mistaken. For you never appeared to us destitute. For if you had, we would certainly have given you everything you needed.”
v. This sounds like the evil and lazy slave who blamed his master for being a hard man.
vi. There is one thing in common among all who will enter eternal fire.
vii. Their view of God is deficient and their view of themselves is inflated. We would have met the need had it been shown to us, so it must not be as you say.
viii. Arrogance and Rebellion. That is why they will inherit the fate of the Devil. Because he also is arrogant and rebellious. His view of Yahweh is deficient and his view of himself is inflated. And in this way, all men who inherit eternal fire are like him.
d. [Slide 15] 45 – Then He will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.”
i. You’ll notice here that Jesus assigns the same meaning to his words from before.
ii. The evidence for the verdict of the sheep is that they had been graced to show compassion on followers of Christ, especially those who were destitute.
iii. And although Jesus omits the words “my brothers and sisters” here, we should probably see this as merely an abbreviation.
iv. Otherwise we are left to wonder who “these” are. An appropriate assumption would be all men in these conditions, but it seems more likely that Jesus is staying consistent with the same measuring stick as he used for the blessed.
v. Much like the master from the previous parable in chapter 24, where his expectation of the slave was the same regardless of the slave’s nature of being wise or evil, so here Jesus, speaking to sheep and goats who graze together – the visible church – has the same measuring stick of evidence to assess whether they are blessed or cursed.
vi. That is, compassion toward the followers of Christ, especially those who are destitute.
e. [Slide 16] 46 – And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
i. This summarizes the whole last half of the discourse.
ii. The wicked, the cursed, the unprepared, the lazy, the disobedient, the sleeping ones – they will all depart into eternal punishment.
iii. Not annihilation as the Jehovah’s witnesses would like us to believe. But eternal torment. Each of us are made in the likeness of God, and we are all in possession of an immortal spirit. Although we clearly had a beginning, we surely do not have an end.
iv. But for the righteous, for the prepared, for the vigilant and obedient, for the productive, their eternality will be characterized by life, as they bask in the presence of the life-giver.
f. [Slide 17] Passage Truth: So what does Jesus teach here and what is Matthew teaching here? The righteous judge will come and separate the sheep and the goats. And he will be looking for evidence of grace or curse.
g. Passage Application: Jesus desires for His disciples to be aware of the effect of grace on their hearts. Grace will cause a change in their demeanor. They will obey by nature, so much that they will love other followers of Christ as they do Christ, because that is what they have been graced to do. But if they are not doing this, if they are not seeing grace’s effect on their capacity to love Christ’s followers, then something is wrong.
h. [Slide 18] Broader Biblical Truth: From the whole bible we see that there will one day be a great divide. All who claim Christ and all who do not will be brought before a glorious throne. And they will be separated by the King. And He knows just how to separate them. Those who have been graced will be separated from those who are cursed.
i. Broader Biblical Application: The application flows from all the messages we have been seeing since chapter 24. Jesus desires His disciples to see it. Matthew wants the Jews to see it. And the Spirit wants us to see it too. Are you ready for the end? Are you prepared? Here is all that will matter in that day. Are you graced? Grace gave Noah advanced warning of the flood. Grace gave the homeowner the watch in which the thief would come. Grace gave obedience to the wise slave. Grace gave preparedness to the wise virgins. Grace gave diligence and passion to the good and faithful slaves with their talents. And grace gives the sheep the capacity to love other sheep, even in their most destitute times.
[Slide 19 (blank)] So what does this text mean for us today? How can we apply this to our lives?
If you are here today and you are legitimately a child of God, if you are elect, then you have been given the grace of God, his favor. That favor will manifest itself in many ways – one of which is your love for other believers, particularly those believers who are destitute. Believers who have great need.
So just as Paul tells the church in Philippi to work out their salvation, we can apply this text in the same way. If this is an evidence of grace, then go out and obey. In fear and trembling though, knowing that God is the one supplying the power and the desire to do His will.
The body of Christ, the assembly of genuine Christ followers will be a place where no need is left unmet. We will not be stingy with our possessions or guarded with our time. We will give of ourselves sacrificially, to meet the needs of our needy brothers and sisters.
But how can we be sure of this? What motivates our compassion? What prompts our love for one another? It is none other than the love of Christ. Both our love for Him, and His love in us. And that my friends, is grace.
We must crucify our flesh. Our own pride, disagreements, division, I am of Paul, I am of Apollos. We must root out gossip and backbiting.
We must confess our misunderstanding of strength. Somehow we have found it noble to pretend like we have no need. I can do it on my own, we’ll say. I don’t need help. But that is not nobility or strength. That is pride and weakness. When we have needs, whatever they may be, we must show humility and dependence on the body of Christ to meet our needs.
When the body functions this way – mourning together, rejoicing together, sharing, fellowshipping and worshipping together – we prove the grace of God in our hearts.
But if you are only a pretend Christian. If you think you are a follower of Christ but you do not love other followers of Christ – you lack the evidence of grace.
And friends if the evidence of grace is lacking – you are not ready for His return. Grace alone, which God supplies, is the only way to obey. It is the only way to victory. In grace we press on.
I cannot think of a better way to end this message than to reflect on the grace of God in a song by Scott Wesley Brown entitled Grace Alone:
Hymn Number 112
Every promise we can make
Every prayer and step of faith
Every difference we can make
Is only by His grace.
Every mountain we will climb
Every ray of hope we shine
Every blessing left behind
Is only by His grace
Grace alone Which God supplies
Strength unknown He will provide
Christ in us, our cornerstone
We will go forth in grace alone.
Every soul we long to reach
Every heart we hope to teach
Everywhere we share His peace
Is only by His grace.
Every loving word we say
Every tear we wipe away
Every sorrow turned to praise
Is only by His grace.
Grace alone Which God supplies
Strength unknown He will provide
Christ in us, our cornerstone
We will go forth in grace alone.