August 28, 2012

Making Room: Loving People as Jesus


Some of you may not remember Junior High. It was a long, LONG time ago for some of you. I’m just saying. But if you can remember that far back, do you remember what it was like in gym class when the Gym teacher announced that for today’s game you would be choosing teams. Two team captains were chosen and they would select, one by one, those who would be on their team for dodgeball, or kickball or dodge the Dinosaur...It was nerve wracking! Because we all know the worst thing that could happen was to be chosen last.

The team captains had to judge who they most wanted on their teams, and what skills they thought would help them win. We all knew who was going to be first. It was always the fast kids, the athletes, the kids who were good at the sport we were playing, the popular kids, no matter how bad or good, were going to be chosen by their friends. But as the numbers started to dwindle. Six kids, three kids, two kids...It was horrible.

If you were the last kid chosen...it was embarrassing. It meant you were pathetic, unathletic, and everyone knew it!

At least in PE there was a teacher there to make sure everyone got to play on a team. But on the playground it was worse because there was no teacher there to make sure you got to play. So if you were last and the teams were even and you were the odd man out...you didn’t get to play!

Even if you were a start athlete...there comes a time in everyone’s life where they don’t get what they hope to get.

You have that great interview for your the job you need. It went very well, and you fully expect to get the job. Then you receive the phone call saying they have chosen another candidate.

You fell in love. She was beautiful. He was amazing. It was wedding bells for her, and just what he needed to get over his fear of commitment. And then it all fell through. They didn’t share the feelings you had for them.

We know what it is like to not be chosen.

We are currently in a message series called Making Room. We are looking at what it means to make room in our lives for others. It can be a messy thing to make room for other people with all their problems and sins and jacked up lives. As people who are called to live Christlike lives we have to wrestle with what it means for us to lovingly embrace people with their sinful messed up lives and at the same time seek to live a holy life.

But throughout the Bible, it is abundantly clear that Jesus came seeking to save those who were lost, far from God, rejected by society, and outcast. The Bible also tells us a time is coming when once again teams will be chosen. Sides will be taken. Only this time it will not be left up to the whims of the popular kids and athletes. It will be at the hands of Jesus Christ who is able to see into our very hearts and will be judge us according to how we treated people whose lives are a hot mess. They are hungry and thirsty and they are excons with all the baggage that brings. They are not people whom you would want in your life.

Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”
Judgment, especially the Final Judgment, is a hot topic in the church. People have all kinds of predictions about when it will take place despite the fact Jesus himself said no one knows when it is going to happen. They have all kinds of elaborate theories and models about how it is going to take place. Pre-Millenial, Post-Millenial, A-Millenial, Tribulation, no tribulation, rapture, no rapture...the list goes on and on. What bothers me most about all this discussion is that people get so wrapped up in the when and how they forget the why.

They seem to forget that Jesus is coming back, not just to come back. He is not coming back to tell us how good we were at figuring out the when He would return. He is not returning to tells how good of a job we did of getting it all figured out theologically. No, He is returning to judge our actions and to set everything right in a world gone wrong.

Matthew 25 tells us He will gather all the nations together. People from every tribe, language and land, and will separate them, separate us, into two groups. One group is described as the sheep. The other group is described as the goats.

Biblically sheep were often a reference to the group of people who were blessed by God. There were a lot of ways people thought you got into this group. Some believed that just because you were Jewish you were the chosen people and automatically a part of the people of God.

Today we have a similar line of thinking. We have a group of people that think because they are part of the church they are part of the people of God. Some think that because they said a Sinner’s Prayer at one time they are automatically part of the Kingdom of God. Some think that living a good, moral life is enough to make them part of the Kingdom of God.

But Matthew 25 reminds us that those who will be part of the People of God live transformed lives expressed in their actions.

It is easy to get caught up in the modern debate about works vs. grace. The Bible never speaks of earning our salvation with good works, but deep down we know genuine things happening inside us express themselves in outward actions.

If a someone says, “I love you” to his or her spouse...their actions will demonstrate that love. They will be present in each other’s life. They will do things for each other, sacrifice for each other, care for each other in ways that go above and beyond what we consider normal. If a someone says “I love you” and then neglects their family, beats on their spouse, or refuses to live sexually within the confines of the marital relationship...we don’t believe they really loves them.

Actions are a demonstration of what is happening in the heart. The actions are not the love itself, but they are certainly a practical expression of it.

The same holds true with our faith. It isn’t just saying a sinner’s prayer or wanting to go to heaven or having some intellectualized belief that a god exists. True faith in Jesus Christ is demonstrated in our actions...actions that look like the actions of Jesus Christ.

So Matthew 25 says Jesus is going to return. He is going to set up a judgment throne. He is going to separate people into two groups. One of those groups are the people of God, and one of those groups is not the people of God. And He is going to do this according to our actions.

So He divides these two groups and he says, to one group, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

And he says to the other group, “‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 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 invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’”

And the obvious question on both sides is, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’” Because we don’t remember you ever being around. After that whole ascension into heaven thing...we just saw other people. When did we see you in need?

Then Jesus responds with a pretty shocking statement, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did/did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

When we serve others we are really serving Jesus.

The opposite of that is also revealed in this passage. When we refuse to serve others we are refusing to serve Jesus.

Have you ever watched that show Undercover Boss?

The CEO of a company dresses up like a regular joe schmo and works alongside his employees to see what they think about the company and who they are as people. They usually learn a lot they didn’t expect.

The best part is always the reveal...when the Boss gathers all the employees together and reveals he/she is the one who has been working alongside them. You can see the fear flash across the face of the employees; even the ones who did a good job. They are thinking back, trying to remember if they did or said anything that will cost them their job.

This passage is a little like that. Last week we asked the question, “Would people want our Jesus based on the way we treat them?” This week our passage challenges us to ask, “Would I treat this person this way if they were Jesus?”

Would you treat Jesus the way you treat our current President?

Would you treat Jesus the way you treat your parents, your neighbor, the annoying person sitting next to you?

Would you treat Jesus the way you treat the person living a homosexual lifestyle or some other lifestyle outside the will of God?

Would you treat Jesus the way you treat those people who have spent time in jail?

It might seem troubling to some of you that I would put Jesus in the place of some of those people. Luckily for me, I’m not the one doing it. Jesus did it to himself. When Jesus is telling this story he personalizes it. He puts himself in the position of the person. “I was hungry...I was thirsty...I was a stranger...I needed clothes...I was sick...I was in prison...” These classifications would have been understood to be a representation of how we treat the least, lost, lonely, and losers in the world around us.

Jesus wants us to know that when we serve others we are really serving Him.

There is an Eternity at stake.

Matthew 25:46 says, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

How we treat others determines our eternity because is demonstrates the authenticity of our faith. But our actions can also determine someone else’s eternity, and that is a frightening thing. It isn’t so much the human mistakes and oversights that get us into trouble...it is the times when we are blatantly acting against the actions of Jesus.

Young men and women around the world have been driven away from God because their priest molested them. Thousands more have been driven away because they can’t stomach a church that would cover that up and refuse to prosecute.

Hundreds of thousands of women go in for an abortion each year. Many have been driven away from God because the protestors shouted horrible things at them in the name of God.

Every year children and teens walk away from God because their parents act one way on Sunday and then another the rest of the week. College students leave because their church and parents would not handle their difficult questions about the Bible and God.

Thousands of people were driven from God when the Church whose leader says things like “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” Were the loudest voice in going to war.

Our actions have eternal consequences both for us and for those around us.

Throughout history, the Church has been most effective...it has been most impactful for the Gospel...more lives have been changed in Jesus’ name when it fulfills its call to love the least, the lost, and the lonely...Not when it has stood high on its haunches and proclaimed how right it is morally or doctrinally and not when it has wielded great political power.

One author says the early church saw “the importance of hospitality to the spread and credibility of the gospel...” Meaning more people believed it was real when they saw people loving like Jesus loved. It was credible. It was worth believing in because of the ability to love that was developed in the Christian’s lives. People saw it....they wanted it.

God will be seen most clearly our lives when we are serving, loving, caring, feeding, building hospitals and orphanages, caring for the sick and dying, loving the addict and helping them find healing, caring those on the fringes of society, serving those in prison.

Anyone can love those who love them back and act properly and fit in with the crowd. But when we are truly transformed by the power of God we are able to love those who are not loved and welcome people in with open arms who are not being welcomed...then the Gospel will move forward and people’s lives will be changed. Eternities will be changed both for them and for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment