“Emmanuel’s Sorting” – Matthew 25:31-46

August 7th, 2016

Matthew 25:31-46

“Emmanuel’s Sorting”

Auxiliary Text:  Jam 2:14-26

Call to Worship from: Psa 146

 

Service Orientation:  Faith proves itself in action . . . not talk.  True saving faith will manifest itself in good deeds done out of the Spirit that lives within with no regard to merit, reward, reputation or recognition.  God will richly reward true saving faith.

 

Bible Memory Verse for the Week: . . . when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? — Luke 18:8

 

Background Information:

  • The judgment of the sheep and goats is not mentioned in any of the other gospels, no doubt because they do not focus on Christ’s kingship, as does Matthew. For that same reason Matthew places much greater emphasis on all aspects of the Lord’s second coming than do the other gospels, because it is at His return that He will manifest Himself as King of kings and Lord of lords in consummate regal glory and power (Rv 19:11-16).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 112)
  • This is one of the most vivid parables Jesus ever spoke, and the lesson is crystal clear–that God will judge us in accordance with our reaction to human need. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 379)
  • Jesus applies to himself language and imagery used only of God in the OT. The most prominent examples come from Daniel 7 and Isaiah 66.  Like “the Ancient of days” (God Almighty), Jesus claims that at his return he likewise will be enthroned as judge (Dn 7:9), in the presence of angels (Dn 7:10), and as the one who will reward the righteous (Dn 7:18) and punish the wicked (Dn 7:26).  And like the Lord (Yahweh) in Isa 66:18, Jesus claims that he “is coming to gather all nations and tongues” so that “they shall come and shall see my glory” (cf. Joel 3:2).  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 749)
  • (v. 31) That first phrase–“When the Son of Man comes in his glory” (25:31) refers to his return. Let’s remember we are in the Olivet Discourse, and a good half of it is about Jesus’ parousia.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 748)
  • (v. 31) Associated with the Son of man in the judgment will be the angels. They are mentioned here not only because, by forming Christ’s train, they enhance his glory, but also because they are given a task to perform.  They will gather the wicked before the judgment throne and cast them into the furnace of fire (13:41, 42; 24:31; 2 Thes 1:7, 8; Rv 14:17-20).  That the angels will also gather the elect from the four winds and bring them to their Judge-Savior, is clear from Mt 24:31.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 886)
  • (v. 32) Everyone who has ever lived will one day give account of themselves at the bar of Christ: they must all obey the summons of the great King and come forward to receive their sentence.  Those who would not come to worship Christ on earth will find they must come to his great assize when he returns to judge the world.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 246)
  • (v. 34) The change from “Son of Man” to “King” (vv. 31, 34) is not at all unnatural; for the son of Man in Dn 7:13-14 approaches the Ancient of Days to receive “a kingdom,” and here that kingdom is consummated (see on 24:30). The kingship motif has long since been hinted at or, on occasion, made fairly explicit to certain persons (see on 3:2; 4:17; 5:35; 16:28; 19:28; 27:42).  Yet Jesus still associates his work with his Father, something he loves to do (10:32-33; 11:25-27; 15:13; 16:17, 27; 18:10, 19; 20:23; 26:29, 53; and many references in John).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 521)
  • (v. 34) This is one of the rare times that Jesus refers to himself as King, although the theme is there throughout Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage to King David (1:1-17), Jesus is sought by the Magi as the one born king of the Jews (2:2), he announces the arrival of the kingdom of heaven (4:17), his earthly ministry comes to a climactic point in his triumphal entry to Jerusalem where he fulfills the expectation of Israel’s king coming to her, the Sanhedrin accuses him of claiming to be king of the Jews (27:11), and he is mocked as king in his crucifixion (27:29, 37, 42).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 810)
  • (v. 34) While Jesus constantly refers to Himself as the Son of man, this is the only place in the Gospels where He speaks of the Son of man as the King. (R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 240)
  • (v. 34) The phrase “foundation of the world” tells us that God had a grand plan in place either before he created everything or during the creation itself. God’s kingdom for God’s people was no afterthought.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 751)
  • (v. 34) In this passage, for the first and last time the Lord Jesus referred to Himself as a King. Immediately after telling the parable He went on His way to be crowned with thorns by a mocking world.  The cross was only three days ahead.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 469)
  • (vss. 35-36) The next significant point is the fact that all the works mentioned are of the humblest and the lowliest kind. Not one grand work is listed; this is in glaring contrast with the claims made in 7:22.  All these are works which even the smallest faith can easily produce.  For even the smallest faith saves.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 992)
  • (vss. 35-36) These works are illustrative, not exhaustive, and representative, not comprehensive. Even Jesus himself didn’t act out all of these actions.  He certainly fed the hungry (14:13-21; 15:32-39) and visited the sick (8:14-17).  But we have no record of him welcoming a stranger into his home (he had no home per se in his adult ministry) or visiting the imprisoned.  However, here we are not to ask the question, did Jesus do all six, and do you do all six? but rather to affirm the statement, “Jesus would do all six and six thousand more, and you and I should go and do likewise.”  We are always expanding upon ways to live out Jesus’ ethics, thinking about how we can use medicine, economics, politics, education, etc., to help the needy of our cities, our country, and all over God’s green and brown and blue earth.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 750)
  • (v. 36) When prison is mentioned in the NT, it is usually Christians behind bars being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (5:10). (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 750)
  • (v. 36) Prisons, for whatever reason one was put in them, were places of misery, where survival might depend on a well-wisher prepared to take one’s part. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 964)
  • (v. 40) Some of these views are better than others, as I have indicated. But the trouble with all of them is that Jesus does not use the word brothers in those ways in this Gospel.  In Matthew, “brothers” means “disciples,” all who follow Christ or all Christians (Mt 12:48-50; 23:8; 28:10).  “Those who are least” also refers to Christ’s followers (Mt 5:19; 11:11; 18:3-6; 18:10-14).  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 541)
  • (v. 40) The fifth and final question from Jesus’ discourse in chapters 24-25 is this: Am I serving Christians whom God has put around me? Many people are confused about this passage (25:31-46), taking the point to be that whenever we do something good for someone, it’s the same as doing it for Jesus.  That line of thinking misses part of Jesus’ point.  Verse 40 helps us to understand this passage rightly, as Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me” (emphasis added).  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 334)
  • (v. 46) God’s original purpose in creating hell was not to prepare a place for sinful people. No, hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41).  Nevertheless, the goats who are on the King’s left will join the devil and his angels in eternal flames.  (Perhaps this explains why the goat’s head has become a satanic symbol.)  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 368)
  • (v. 46) This is, however, the only time we meet the phrase “eternal punishment” in Matthew, or indeed in the whole NT. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 966)
  • I also answer no to the allegation that this text teaches works-righteousness based on the context and the genre. I reminded you in the last chapter about the immediate context, showing you how the three parables in Matthew 25 answer the question of readiness for Christ’s return.  Note that the question raised then was not, how does one enter the kingdom? but rather, what does readiness for Jesus’ return look like for those already in?  Note also that each picture is important and inseparable.  Readiness looks like hope (the Parable of the Ten Virgins), faith (the Parable of the Talents), and love (the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats).  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 755)
  • It seems a far cry from the wearied man on Olivet to the Son of Man with all His angels sitting on His glorious throne as Judge of all the world. Yet this is just what Jesus claimed.  Calvary with its degradation and shame was only three days away, but the resurrection and ascension to follow would add authenticity to His claim.  Here His few disciples were sitting at His feet.  There all mankind will be massed at His feet.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 133)

 

The question to be answered is . . . What is Jesus telling us as He wraps up His teaching on His second coming?

 

Answer:  What Jesus is looking for when He returns is true, saving faith that will unthinkingly manifest itself in good deeds and works without any regard to merit, reward, reputation or recognition.

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Faith

 

Pascal in his Pensées phrased it perfectly:  “The elect will be ignorant of their virtues, and the outcast[s] of the greatness of their sins.”  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 752)

 

What is Jesus telling us in Matthew 25:31-46?:

I-  Judge Jesus will separate those who have true saving faith (sheep to eternal life) from those who don’t (goats to eternal punishment).  (Mt 25:31-33, 41, 46; see also: Dn 12:1-3; Mt 7:21-23; 13:24-30, 40-43, 49-50; 16:27; 19:28; 24:51; 25:30, 41; Jn 5:22-30; 9:39; Acts 10:42; 17:30-31; Rom 2:6, 16; 14:10; 1 Cor 4:3-5; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Thes 1:8; 1 Tm 6:6-19; 2 Tm 4:1, 8; Jude 1:14-15; Rv 19:11; 20:10-15)

 

You either grow in grace or groan in disgrace.  — John Debrine

 

Heidelberg Catechism:

Question 21.  What is true faith?

True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

 

Jesus’ throne will be a throne of judgment.  The first thing He will do when He comes in His glory will be to gather everyone from every nation before His throne.  Then that gathering will be followed immediately by a separation.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 733)

 

This kind of teaching is very hard for people in modern Western culture, which embraces pluralism, relativism, and universalism, and which has an incurable allergy to any hint of exclusion.  The idea of separation goes completely against the grain of our culture, especially since this particular separation means that some will enter the blessedness of eternal life in heaven and the rest will enter the everlasting misery of judgment in hell.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 733)

 

The First Gospel has been called “pre-eminently the Gospel of judgment,” and certainly this feature is found throughout.  Among other illustrations of it, we have the separations of the wheat from the chaff (3:12), of the sincere from the hypocrites (6:2, 5, 16), the wise builder from the foolish (7:24-27), the wheat from the tares (13:30), the good from the bad fish (14:48, 49), the profitable from the unprofitable servants (14-30); and now we have the final separation of the sheep from the goats (31-46).  The principle of separation throughout is the relation in which those who are judged stand to Jesus Himself.  (Alfred Plummer, Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 348)

 

All who are judged will be divided into two great classes.  There will no longer be any distinction between kings and subjects, or masters and servants, or dissenters and churchmen; there will be no mention of ranks and denominations, for the old order of things will have passed away.  Grace or no grace, conversion or unconversion, faith of no faith will be the only distinction on the last day.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 246)

 

Mistake number 1 – Is to think that you can get to heaven by good works.

Mistake number 2 – Is to think that you can get to heaven without good works. (Alistair Begg; sermon Living with Significance – Part 2)

 

This is clear, “that we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ”; and this is clear, that Jesus Christ put forth, when at the very lowest point of His earthly humiliation, these tremendous claims, and asserted His authority as Judge over every soul of man.  We are apt to lose ourselves in the crowd.  Let us pause and think that “all” includes “me.”  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-28, 216)

 

Hell is here described in categories familiar to Jews (see on 3:12; 5:22; 18:8; cf. Jude 7; Rv 20:10-15).  The kingdom was prepared for the righteous (v. 34).  Hell was prepared for the Devil (see on 4:1) and his angels (demons; see on 8:31; cf. Jude 6; Rv 12:7) but now also serves as the doom of those guilty of the sins of omission of which Jesus here speaks:  they have refused to show compassion to King Messiah through helping the least of his brothers.  There is no significance in the fact that the “goats” address Jesus as “Lord” (v. 44); for at this point there is no exception whatever to confessing Jesus as Lord (cf. Phil 2:11).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 522)

 

Presupposed is the fulfillment of 24:14.  “All the nations” (v. 32) means “all peoples” and clearly implies that “all the nations” includes more than Gentiles only (see on 28:18-20).  As the gospel of the kingdom is preached to Gentiles as well as Jews (see on 1:1; 2:1-12; 3:15-16; 8:11), so also must all stand before the King.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 521)

 

Needless difficulties are encountered by playing one set of passages such as Jn 3:18; 5:24, which exempt the believers from judgment, against another set of passages such as Jn 5:29; Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 3:13; 2 Cor 5:10, which declare that the believers, too, shall be judged.  Jesus makes the whole matter plain; not a single sin of the believers is mentioned in the judgment, examined, probed, and judged, only the good works of believers are named; so they are, indeed, not brought into judgment, and yet they are judged.  All the sins of the unbelievers are brought forward, and on the basis of these sins they are damned forever.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 989)

 

The error of justification by works is in trusting to the discipline of your own soul to save your soul; but the opposite to trusting to your works is not to do nothing, it is to do everything but not to put your trust in any of it.  It is not the works that are wrong, it is the faith in your works, trusting in your works.  But what a subtle danger this is.  It seems to me that one of the chief dangers in Protestantism today, and especially in evangelical circles is that, in our fear of the error of justification by works, we have been saying that works do not matter at all.  We argue that faith alone counts, and because I am a man of faith it does not matter what I do and my life can be thoroughly lacking in discipline.  Out upon the suggestion!  The opposite to a false trust in works is not indolence, lack of discipline and doing nothing, it is to be diligent and more diligent, to be zealous, and to add to your faith.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression:  Its Causes and Cure, 211)

 

The remarkable thing is that hell fire was originally prepared for the devil and his angels as the fit punishment for their irremediable apostasy from God; and not for men.  It is a fair deduction that men are consigned to this devil’s fire for the simple reason that they have turned from God to the devil and have become incurably apostate even as he is.  The devil and his angels whose promptings these men followed on earth will be their constant companions in the eternal fire.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 997)

 

In the last analysis it is not sins as such that damn, whether they be great or small, many or few, commissions or omissions.  For all sins can be pardoned and wiped out forever by grace.  In the final analysis it is unbelief that damns, the unbelief that ever says “no” to grace, continues to say this “no” even in hell (Lk 16:30), and thus retains also the guilt and the damnation of all its other sins.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 998)

 

Since the Son of man is clothed with “all authority” (11:27; 28:18; cf. Eph 1:22), he is called “the King” (cf. Jn 18:36; Rv 19:16).  To be at the King’s right means to hear from his lips, “Come.”  They are welcomed to close, loving, and abiding fellowship with their Savior, the Judge and King.  No greater blessing can be imagined (Ps 17:15; 73:23-25).  They are those who have been and, as the tense of the original implies, are abidingly the blessed of–or:  those blessed by–the Father, who bestowed upon them salvation, that is, who delivered them from the greatest evil, sin and all its consequences, and placed them in possession of the greatest good, right standing before him and all it implies.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 887)

 

He will put the believing sheep on His right, the place of favor and blessing.  But the unbelieving goats He will put on the left, the place of disfavor and rejection.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 121)

 

Eternal punishment takes place in hell (that is, the lake of fire or Gehenna), which is the place of punishment after death for all those who refuse to repent.  In the Bible, three words are used in connection with eternal punishment: (1) Sheol, or “the grave,” is used in the OT to mean the place of the dead, generally thought to be under the earth.  (See Job 24:19; Ps 16:10; Isa 38:10).  (2) “Hades” is the Greek word for the underworld, the realm of the dead.  It is the word used in the NT for Sheol.  (See Mt 16:18; Rv 1:18; 20:13-14.)  (3) Gehenna, or hell, was named after the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem where children had been sacrificed by fire to the pagan gods (see 2 Kgs 23:10; 2 Chr 28:3).  This is the place of eternal fire (Mt 5:22; 10:28; Mk 9:43; Lk 12:5; Jam 3:6; Rv 19:20) prepared for the devil, his angels, and all those who do not believe in Christ (Rv 20:9-10).  This is the final and eternal state of the wicked after the resurrection and the Last Judgment.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 498-9)

 

The five foolish virgins who had no oil for their lamps were not shut out of the wedding feast because they were morally wicked but because they were unprepared for the bridegroom (see Mt 25:1-13).  In the same way, the slave with one talent was not cast into outer darkness because he embezzled the master’s money but because he failed to invest it (vv. 14-30).  Also in the same way, a person who is shut out of the kingdom of God is not condemned because of the greatness of his sin but because of the absence of his faith.  It is not that those who are damned to hell are equally wretched and vile; their common reason for damnation is lack of faith.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 126)

 

The judgment is all-inclusive, for all nations are literally “herded” before Him. The word-picture was understood in the Middle East, for shepherds tended sheep and goats together.  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 283)

 

There is no purgatory.  “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27).  There is no second chance.  There is no reincarnation to a new life on this earth.  The only reincarnation is the resurrection of the body for heaven or for hell.  That is why it is so perilous to keep evading the issue, dodging the question.  A judgment awaits each of us, a judgment according to the standards of God’s righteousness.  Remember what Paul said to the Athenians:  “These times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).  Why?  “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (v. 31a).  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 736)

 

II-  Judge Jesus has an intimate, non-discriminatory, all inclusive, identification with all those who are believers in Jesus.  (Mt 25:40 & 45; see also: Prv 19:17; Isa ch 53; 63:9; Mt 10:40-42; 18:5; 22:34-40; Mk 13:13; Jn 13:20; 15:18-21; 17:23-26; Acts 9:4-5; 22:7; 26:14-15;  Rom 8:17; 15:3; 1 Cor 12:27; 2 Cor 1:5; 5:21; Gal 2:20; 6:17; Col 1:24; 1 Jn 4:7-21)

 

By feeding the hungry, giving drink to the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the outcasts in prison, the righteous have all unwittingly been rendering service to their Lord.  By the very spontaneity and unselfconsciousness of their love, by their unaffected goodness, and their perseverance in well-doing, they have proved themselves true sons of their heavenly Father.  They are worthy, therefore, both to be addressed by the king as those who are “blessed by His Father,” and also to receive from His lips the gracious invitation to enter into their rightful inheritance, which has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world (34).  (R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 238)

 

To fail to serve Christ’s people is to fail to serve Him, and to fail to serve Him is to prove one does not belong to Him.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 126)

 

The parable therefore presents a test eliminating the possibility of hypocrisy.  If the goats had thought that their treatment of Jesus’ “brothers” would gain them eschatological felicity, they would doubtless have treated them compassionately.  But Jesus is interested in a righteousness of the whole person, a righteousness from the heart (see on 5:20; 13:52).  As people respond to his disciples, or “brothers,” and align themselves with their distress and afflictions, they align themselves with the Messiah who identifies himself with them (v. 45).  True disciples will love one another and serve the least brother with compassion; in so doing they unconsciously serve Christ.  Those who have little sympathy for the gospel of the kingdom will remain indifferent and, in so doing, reject King Messiah.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 522)

 

So far as you have done it to one of the least of my brethren.  Believers only are expressly recommended to our notice; not that he bids us altogether despise others, but because the more nearly a man approaches to God, he ought to be the more highly esteemed by us; for though there is a common tie that binds all the children of Adam, there is a still more sacred union among the children of God.  So then, as those who belong to the household of faith ought to be preferred to strangers, Christ makes special mention of them.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVII, 181)

 

The Jew always felt that to receive a person’s envoy or messenger was the same as to receive the person himself.  To pay respect to an ambassador was the same as to pay respect to the king who had sent him.  To welcome with love the messenger of a friend was the same as to welcome the friend himself.  The Jew always felt that to honor a person’s representative was the same as to honor the person whose representative he was.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 397-8)

 

There has been much discussion about the identity of the “family members.”  Some have said they are the Jews; others say they are the apostles and/or all Christians; still others say they are poor and needy people everywhere.  Such a debate is much like the lawyer’s question to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29).  The point of this parable is not the “who” but the “what”–the importance of serving where service is needed.  Jesus’ original intent seems to be that how we treat lowly and needy fellow Christians determines how truly we love Jesus.  If Christians who have resources would help needy fellow Christians, non-Christians would be totally persuaded of the validity of Christian love.  Such love for others glorifies God by reflecting our love for him.  But that does not excuse our broader responsibility to show love and mercy to everyone in need.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 497-8)

 

III-  Those sheep who have true saving faith will do acts of kindness and charity out of the Holy Spirit that lives within them with no regard for merit, reward, reputation or recognition.  (Mt 25:34-40; see also: Ex 22:25-27; Dt 14:28-29; 15:11; Isa 58:6-10; Jer 31:31-34; Mt 6:1-34; 16:27; Mk 9:41; Lk 4:18-19; 10:25-37; Jn 13:35;  Eph 2:8-10; Ti 3:1-8; Jam 2:14-17; 1 Jn 3:14-18; 4:7-21)

 

Benevolence is the gauge of a righteous heart.  —Steve Brown

 

Such surprise indicates that these were not intentional meritorious acts to gain access to the kingdom.  Rather, these acts of mercy are evidences that the sheep belong to the kingdom, just as the preceding parables pointed out external behavioral evidences of a person who has truly received the gift of salvation and the resulting transformation by the Spirit.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 810)

 

Mercy to the full range of human needs is such an essential mark of being a Christian that it can be used as a test of true faith.  Mercy is not optional or an addition to being a Christian.  Rather, a life poured out in deeds of mercy is the inevitable sign of true faith.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 35)

 

In Prv 14:31 and 19:17 we are told that to ignore the needs of a poor man is to sin against the Lord.  So the poor and needy are a test.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 39)

 

Good deeds done to Jesus’ followers, even the least of them, are not only works of compassion and morality but reflect where people stand in relation to the kingdom and to Jesus himself.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 520)

 

Thoroughly unaware are these people of ever having performed any good deeds–which was exactly what made these deeds so good!  It seems strange to them that they who had accomplished so little should now receive the ultimate accolade, a bestowal of praise uttered by the One who was their Lord and King.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 889)

 

Nothing more evidences conversion than a life marked by the compassion of God and the meekness and love of Christ.  When the disciples of John the Baptist wanted evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, He replied by telling them not just about His spectacular healings but also about how He treated those in need (Mt 11:4-6).  When He announced His messianic credentials to the people of Nazareth, He again reflected not on the amazing but on the way He treated the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the downtrodden (Lk 4:18-19).  The person who belongs to Christ will demonstrate such compassion and be humble about it.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 123-4)

 

The kind of people who have been so transformed by their daily walk with God that good deeds naturally flow from their character are precisely the kind of people whose left hand would not notice what their right hand is doing–as, for example, when driving one’s own car or speaking one’s native language.  What they do they do naturally, often automatically, simply because of what they are pervasively and internally.  These are people who do not have to invest a lot of reflection in doing good for others.  Their deeds are “in secret” no matter who is watching, for they are absorbed in love of God and of those around them.  They hardly notice their own deed, and rarely remember it.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 192)

 

Anyone who possesses saving faith immediately begins to do good works.  We are not justified by our works in any way whatsoever, but we are justified to good works.  Thus, the ultimate test by which we will be determined to be in Christ or not is the presence or absence of fruit.  On the last day, our professions of faith will be judged by the works we have performed.  Again, we are not justified by our works, but if we do not have works, that is clear evidence that we do not have saving faith.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 735)

 

*    Develop a loving lifestyle, so that good deeds flow naturally from your normal conduct of life.  God is generous; you be generous.  God is patient; you be patient.  Learn to live that way.

*    Don’t be so sure about God’s will.  The deeds you might dismiss as casual and simple (tending the church nursery, cleaning up after a picnic, greeting visitors) God will regard as valuable moments of showing his love and grace to people.  The deeds you may regard as highly spiritual God may dismiss as calculating and misconceived.

*    Be energetic about the little moments in your ordinary day.  Offering a drink to someone is a simple gesture of care and concern.  A lot of similar “little gestures” build into a much bigger story:  God has changed your life, turning natural selfishness into generosity and compassion.  This God is great!  Believe in him.  That’s your message in each of the little gestures that shows God’s love.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 498)

 

For the greater is their fervor, and the more numerous are the works that they perform, and the greater is the pleasure that they take in them, as they progress in humility, the more do they realize how much God deserves of them, and how little is all that they do for His sake, and thus, the more they do, the less are they satisfied. (St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, 42)

 

But as we look at these three social institutions–family, church, and state–we see that the closer the covenantal connection, the greater the responsibility for mercy.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 82)

 

God’s mercy comes to us without conditions, but does not proceed without our cooperation.  So too our aid must begin freely, regardless of the recipient’s merits.  But our mercy must increasingly demand change or it is not really love.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 93)

 

The astonished questions of the righteous are the best evidence as to how far their thoughts are from any idea of merit on their part.  They have, indeed, learned from the gospel to serve Christ, their King, in even the lowliest of his brethren.  But when they now note infinite glory as their inheritance in the heavenly Kingdom, the award of this inheritance on the ground of such little works seems impossible to them.  They kept no record of their works, they trusted solely in grace and forgot all their works.  This is the truth that Christ brings out by means of these questions.  It is further evidence to show how just and righteous the award he makes is.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 994)

 

You serve Christians God has put around you not because you want to get to heaven, as if you could earn your right standing before God.  These saints who are welcomed into heaven in this passage are surprised at what Jesus says:  “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?” (v. 37).  Clearly, their acts of service–giving away food and clothes, welcoming strangers visiting the sick and the imprisoned–were not done in order to get to heaven, for they were shocked to hear that these works had been noticed.  You serve Christians whom God has put around you not because you want to get to heaven, but because Jesus has changed your heart.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 335)

 

Throughout his ministry, by means of precept and example, Jesus had stressed the necessity of feelings and works of love, mercy, and generosity (5:7, 32-38; 8:17; 9:36; 11:28-30; 12:7, 20, 21; 14:16, 34-36; 15:32; 18:1-6, 22, 35; 19:13-15; 20:28; 22:9, 37-39; 23:37).  So it is altogether natural that this is what he expects of his followers.  Now those who are here called blessed have shown kindness to the Son of man while he was still in the state of humiliation, “rejected of men.”  Therefore all the more they will be called “blessed” when he returns in glory.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 888)

 

The last work, going to those in prison, helps to cast a light on all these works.  They recall what Jesus said about the persecutions his believers would have to suffer.  Any comfort and any help, ever so slight, offered to believers in these circumstances would really be a confession of Christ and thus in the highest sense a work of faith.  What is commonly called “charity,” namely works done from humanitarian impulses, are thus ruled out.  The works of faith are far more than such charity, they are confessional.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 993)

 

The astonishment expressed by these followers of the Lord was that borne of service spontaneously, gladly, gratefully, and humbly rendered, and then completely forgotten.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 889)

 

The righteous did not know that they had been doing all this, therefore it was not done for the purpose of securing some happy end; the righteous had wholly forgotten the beneficent activities which were attributed to them, therefore they had not been mere legalists trying to obey the letter of a law, and endeavoring to set up, by penance or gift, some claim to the ultimate mercy and clemency of heaven.  They had been simply breathing a spirit, embodying an aspiration, setting out in beautiful daily life that which was internal and vital and part of their very nature, and had become such by ministries we call divine and spiritual.  (Joseph Parker, Christ’s Finished Work, Studies in Matthew 16-28, 145)

 

In the pronouncement upon the sheep (vv. 35-40), it appears that the righteous answer is innocent surprise, as though they had been doing these things out of the inner transformation of grace without being legalistically bound to do so.  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 283)

 

There is nothing sensational or spectacular about the activity the King commends.  Saint John Chrysostom noticed that the Judge does not say, “I was sick and you healed me,” or “I was in prison and you set me free.”  These are not big miracles but little acts of mercy and kindness.  Virtually every Christian is capable of these.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 368)

 

We have not fed every hungry beggar we ever met.  We have not always been the generous and hospitable and sensitive humanitarians he gives us credit for being.  He remembers only the few, scattered deeds of mercy that we have done.  In fact, he remembers things we have forgotten, “When did we see you . . .?”  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 369)

 

The rule for all of us is fairly simple:  do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.  –C. S. Lewis

 

The love of our neighbor is the only door out of the dungeon of self. — George MacDonald

 

It is not a question of giving away huge sums of money, or of writing our names in the annals of history; it is a case of giving simple help to the people we meet every day.  There never was a parable which so opened the way to glory to us all.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 380)

 

The response by those whom the King commends is remarkable and is another proof of their salvation.  Because they have ministered in a spirit of humility and selflessness and not to be seen and honored by men (see Mt 6:2, 5, 16), they have seemingly forgotten about the many things they have done and are surprised that these are worthy of such mention by the Lord.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 123)

 

When the person in need is acting irresponsibly, and your continued aid would only shield him from the consequences of his own behavior, then it is no longer loving or merciful to continue support.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 228)

 

Romans 12:8 stresses that acts of mercy are to be done with glad Hilarity.  As emphasized in the preface to this book, we don’t want to make the anachronistic mistake of interpreting the Greek hilarotēs with our contemporary understanding of its English derivative hilarity.  But the word does blast all the old stereotypes of dour-faced, serious-minded women dispensing soup for the poor.  What better witness to the Hilarity we have because of our relationship with Jesus Christ if such acts of mercy are done with eager cheerfulness!  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 135)

 

The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behavior.  Suddenly I discover that I am ministering to AIDS victims to enhance my resume.  I find I renounced ice cream for Lent to lose five pounds.  I drop hints about the absolute priority of mediation and contemplation to create the impression that I am a man of prayer.  At some unremembered moment I have lost the connection between internal purity of heart and external works of piety.  In the most humiliating sense of the word, I have become a legalist.  I have fallen victim to what T. S. Eliot calls the greatest sin:  to do the right thing for the wrong reason. (Brennan Manning; The Ragamuffin Gospel, 131)

 

Centuries ago, Augustine distinguished between the person caught stealing for simple mischief and the poor widow stealing from the market to feed her hungry children.  To pursue justice is to correct the problem; for the first, this means correcting a life view, and for the latter, correcting a life situation. (Myron S. Augsburger; The Christ-Shaped Conscience, 114)

 

There’s an ugly secret of global poverty, one rarely acknowledged by aid groups or U.N. reports.  It’s a blunt truth that is politically incorrect, heartbreaking, frustrating and ubiquitous:  It’s that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed.  (Nicholas D. Kristof, “Moonshine or the Kids?” The New York Times, May 22, 2010)

 

As a priority, we should give to needy Christians both intensively and extensively, until their need is gone.  But we must also give generously to nonbelievers as part of our witness to the world.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 80)

 

And though we must be extremely patient, eventually, aid must be withdrawn if it is abused.

We see then that mercy ministry operates on the same basis as evangelism.  Initially, we offer the gospel to anyone and everyone, as we have opportunity and resources to reach them.  “Whosoever will”!  We do not wait for them to come to us.  But, if eventually a person or a group evidences a rebellious and disrespectful attitude toward the gospel, we withdraw.  Continued pressure only hardens them and dishonors the message.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 97)

 

“God justifies the ungodly.  And that means that when you are justified, when you are absolutely righteous and loved, absolutely accepted, in yourself you are absolutely unworthy, absolutely sinful’ you’re ungodly, and therefore there is within you absolutely nothing that is the basis of this justification. Nothing!

Now, people have a lot of problem with that.  They say, “O my goodness!  I’ve got to be good a little bit.”

I once had someone say to me, “If I believe what you believe I would have no incentive to live a good life.  And by the way, there are plenty of people who have said that to me over the years.  If I believe that I was totally saved, and it had nothing to do with the way that I lived, if it was completely free then I would have no incentive to live a good life.

And here is the proper (I think) response:  If when you lose all fear of punishment, you also lose your incentive for living a good life, then the only incentive you had to live a good life was fear.  See, if when you lose your fear, you lose your incentive to be good, then the only incentive you had to be good was the fear.

And here is the ironic thing.  The fear is selfish.  Fear is always selfish.  Because I might lose, this might happen, that might happen; I’d better be good.  But what is goodness?  Goodness is unselfish living, unselfish service to God, unselfish service to be poor, unselfish service to my neighbor.   I’m scared that I might be lost unless I’m, good, but what is goodness but being unselfish.  But don’t you realize that’s incredibly selfish.

When you live a good life so that God will bless you and take you to heaven, it is by definition not good.  Because it is all for you.  All for you.  You’re not helping the poor, you are helping yourself.  You’re not helping God, you are helping yourself.  This is the reason why the Belgic Confession, an old reformation document from the 17th century puts it like this:

     . . . . far from making people cold toward living in a pious holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned.  (Belgic Confession: Article 24 “The Sanctification of Sinners”)

Did you hear that?  Let me tell you what that is saying.  Put on your thinking cap.  And don’t laugh too much when I tell you.

If you think your good deeds are good.  If you think your unselfish good deeds are good, they are no good.   In other words, if you think they are good and God owes you something then they are not by definition, by your own definition.  Your goodness is really selfishness.

But if you say all my good deeds are worthless.  I need to be saved by grace.  I am saved by grace.  Now I want to please God.  I want to resemble God.  I want to delight God.  I want to be near God.  Well, how do I do that?

By serving Him.  By serving other people.  But, if you think your deeds are good, they’re no good.  But, if you think that your good deeds are absolutely worthless and you are saved by grace that makes your deeds good.  If you think they’re good they’re no good and if you think they’re no good they’re good.   If you think they are worthless, but you are doing them just to please God, then they actually please God. (Tim Keller; sermon entitled: “Justified by Faith” )

 

What you do in the present–by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself–will last into God’s future.  These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it, “Until that day when all the blest to endless rest are called away”).  They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.  (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 193)

 

IV-  Those goats who do not have true saving faith nor the Holy Spirit living within are incapable of acts of kindness and charity done with no regard for merit, reward, reputation or recognition.  (Mt 25:41-45; see also: Mt 6:1-34; 15:19; Jn 3:16-21; 5:24; Rom 3:9-23; 6:23; 1 Jn 2:9-11; 4:7-21)

 

Our intent is determined by what we want and expect from our action.  When we do good deeds to be seen by human beings, that is because what we are looking for is something that comes from human beings.  God responds to our expectations accordingly.  When we want human approval and esteem, and do what we do for the sake of it, God courteously stands aside because, by our wish, it does not concern him.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 190)

 

In a tone of “injured innocence” (Tasker), they asked when it was that they saw him in such straits and would not help.  The answer is that when they refused help to the least important of Christ’s followers they refused help to Christ.  Their judgment rests not on acts of wickedness but on their failure to respond compassionately when faced with human despair.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 236)

 

It should be noted that all these sins are negative.  Not a single sinful deed–such as idolatry, murder, adultery, theft, etc.–is mentioned.  Only sins of omission are enumerated, sins of neglect.  Cf. Heb 2:3.  This neglect proves that these people have not believed in the Son of man.  For this unbelief, thus demonstrated, they are condemned.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 891)

 

As in the previous parables of the ten virgins and of entrusted wealth, so in this picture of the great assize, it is not so much positive wrong-doing that evokes the severest censure, as the utter failure to do good.  The sins of omission are seen to be even more damning than the sins of commission.  The door is shut against the foolish virgins for their negligence; the unenterprising servant is cast out as a good-for-nothing for doing nothing; and those on the left hand are severely punished for failing to notice the many opportunities for showing kindness which had been given them.  (R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 239)

 

The scene of the judgment of the sheep and goats brings these parables and the discourse to a dramatic conclusion with the pronouncement that we will all be accountable for what we do in this life while awaiting the return of the King.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 820-1)

 

Not in one instance did these accursed people do even the slightest little deed for Christ, the King.  Not in a single case was there a motive that the King could recognize as an intention really to trust and to accept him.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 997-8)

 

Although the NT clearly teaches that deeds of kindness in and of themselves do not secure salvation, it also teaches that when faith is real it must of necessity express itself in a life of concern for others.  The warning is directed against goats, who, as they mingle daily with sheep, might be led to think that they can get by as sheep.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 236)

 

These are accursed because they rejected Christ, just as those who enter the kingdom are righteous (v. 37) because they accepted Him.  Their rejection of Christ left them in a state where they were not able to do righteous deeds.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 125)

 

As these beginners feel themselves to be very fervent and diligent in spiritual things and devout exercises, from this prosperity (although it is true that holy things of their own nature cause humility) there often comes to them, through their imperfections, a certain kind of secret pride, whence they come to have some degree of satisfaction with their works and with themselves.  And hence there comes to them likewise a certain desire, which is somewhat vain, and at times very vain, to speak of spiritual things in the presence of others, and sometimes even to teach such things rather than to learn them.  They condemn others in their heart when they see that they have not the kind of devotion which they themselves desire; and sometimes they even say this in words, herein resembling the Pharisee, who boasted of himself, praising God for his own good works and despising the publican.

In these persons the devil often increases the fervor that they have and the desire to perform these and other works more frequently, so that their pride and presumption may grow greater.

…Sometimes, too, when their spiritual masters, such as confessors and superiors, do not approve of their spirit and behavior (for they are anxious that all they do shall be esteemed and praised), they consider that they do not understand them, or that, because they do not approve of this and comply with that, their confessors are themselves not spiritual.  And so they immediately desire and contrive to find some one else who will fit in with their tastes; for as a rule they desire to speak of spiritual matters with those who they think will praise and esteem what they do, and they flee, as they would from death, from those who disabuse them in order to lead them into a safe road—sometimes they even harbor ill-will against them. (St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, 39-40)

 

Worship Point:  If you possess the Spirit of God, which means you have true, saving faith in Jesus—in other words:  if are a Christian; then worship will come quite naturally:  anywhere, anytime, under any conditions or circumstances and notably in how we respond to other Christians in need.

 

According to the narrative of Scripture, the very heart of how we show and distinguish true worship from false worship is apparent in how we respond to the poor, the oppressed, the neglected and the forgotten.  As of now, I do not see this theme troubling the waters of worship in the American church.  But justice and mercy are not add-ons to worship, nor are they the consequences of worship.  Justice and mercy are intrinsic to God and therefore intrinsic to the worship of God.  (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 37-8)

 

(Isa 1:13-15, 17)  God is saying through Isaiah:  Orthodoxy without social concern is not orthodoxy!”  So, too, social concern without the ministry of word would be a vain offering.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 114)

 

In worship we find fresh reasons and desire to serve.  Isaiah didn’t say “Here am I.  Send me!” until after his vision of God.  That’s the order–worship, then worship-empowered service.  As A. W. Tozer put it, “Fellowship with God leads straight to obedience and good works.  That is the divine order and it can never be reversed” (Harry Verploegh, Signposts: A Collection of Sayings from A. W. Tozer, 183).  The work of service is too hard without the power we receive for it through worship.

At the same time, one measure of the authenticity of worship (again, both personal and corporate) is whether it results in a desire to serve.  Isaiah is the classic example here also.  Tozer again says it best:  “No one can long worship God in spirit and in truth before the obligation to holy service becomes too strong to resist” (Verploegh, 183).

Therefore, we must maintain that to be Godly, we should discipline ourselves for both worship and service.  To engage in one without the other is, in reality, to experience neither.  (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 121)

 

Gospel Application:  Those who possess true saving faith in Jesus know that they have not earned their status before God but that it has come on the basis of their faith in Jesus.  Believers do good works with no regard for merit, reward, reputation or recognition.  Any truly good work is done by Jesus through us.  (Jn 13:35; 15:1-17; Ti 3:1-8)

 

Those who helped did not think that they were helping Christ and thus piling up eternal merit; they helped because they could not stop themselves.  It was the natural, instinctive, quite uncalculating reaction of the loving heart.  Whereas, on the other hand, the attitude of those who failed to help was:  “if we had known it was you we would gladly have helped; but we thought it was only some insignificant person who was not worth helping.”  It is still true that there are those who will help if they are given praise and thanks and publicity; but to help like that is not to help, it is to pander to self-esteem.  Such help is not generosity; it is disguised selfishness.  The help which wins the approval of God is that which is given for nothing but the sake of helping.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 380)

 

The real difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not their attitude toward sin… . the difference is their attitude toward their good deeds.  The Pharisee repents of sin, but the Christian repents of his or her ‘righteousness’ as well, seeing it not only as insufficient, but sinful itself, since it was done in order to save ourselves without Christ. (Tim Keller, The Content of the Gospel, 27)

 

The true way to Christianity is this, that a man first acknowledges himself by the law to be a sinner, and that it is impossible for him to do any good work.  For the law says:  You are an evil tree, and therefore all that you think, speak, or do, is against God.  You cannot therefore deserve grace by your works: which if you go about to do, you double your offense; for since you are an evil tree, you cannot but bring forth evil fruits, that is to say, sins.  “For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Rom 14:23).  So he who would merit grace by works going before faith, goes about to please God with sins, which is nothing else but to heap sin upon sin, to mock God, and to provoke His wrath.   When a man is thus taught and instructed by the law, then is he terrified and humbled, then he sees indeed the greatness of his sin, and cannot find in himself one spark of love of God; therefore he justifies God in His Word, and confesses that he is guilty of death and eternal damnation.  The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance and the knowledge of ourselves.”    (Martin Luther; Galatians, 92)

 

I have argued so far that disinterested benevolence toward God is evil.  If you come to God dutifully offering him the reward of your fellowship instead of thirsting after the reward of his fellowship, then you exalt yourself above God as his benefactor and belittle him as a needy beneficiary—and that is evil.  (John Piper; Desiring God, 97)

 

They will in no way earn a place in the kingdom.  A child does not earn an inheritance but receives it on the basis of his being in the family.  In exactly the same way, a believer does not earn his way into the kingdom of God but receives it as his rightful inheritance as a child of God and a fellow heir with Jesus Christ (Rom 8:16-17).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 122)

 

The presence of kingdom life will always produce evidence in the transformed speech, thought, actions, and character of Jesus’ followers.  The absence of transformation is proof that a person has not accepted the invitation to the kingdom.  Reward or penalty is distributed according to the evidence.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 813)

 

Humble ministry to the lowliest demonstrates Jesus’ own humility in leaving the glories of heaven to bring salvation’s story to the weak and the downtrodden, the tax collector and sinner, the sick and dying.  We cannot serve these solely out of a motivation of religious obligation, for then we do so out of our own prideful strength.  We serve because we have been lifted up–and we never forget it.  Religious duty and public ministry can easily be turned around to the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus consistently condemned–serving out of a desire to receive community and professional commendation (cf. 6:1-17).  But a heart that has been truly transformed by the righteousness of the kingdom of God will serve out of humility.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 821)

 

Even Luther himself had these shining moments, such as when he wrote in his “Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans”:

O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith.  It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly.  It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them.  Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 756)

 

Piety is not a question of mechanics or arrangement, of doing this and not doing the other:  piety is not a question of abstaining from this and partaking of the other–it is a spirit, a life, an invisible but supreme sovereignty of the soul, and he who enjoys the consciousness of that sovereignty does good and blushes to find its fame.  He has no idea that all this is coming back to him in certain forms; if he had, he would be a mere speculator and investor, a trickster in good doing, and that is a contradiction in terms–our good doing must be our breathing, it must be the habit and spirit of our life, and to be this, it must originate in the cross, take its inspiration from the cross, return for recreating and renewal day by day to the cross; and doing so according to your nature and opportunity, you will find that all the parables speak the same thing, and that amid the infinite diversity of imaginative expression, there is the same central, substantial, eternal truth.  (Joseph Parker, Christ’s Finished Work, Studies in Matthew 16-28, 146)

 

The only true and enduring motivation for the ministry of mercy is an experience and a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel.  If we know we are sinners saved by grace alone, we will be both open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 58)

 

Spiritual Challenge:  Do what Matthew and Jesus have been encouraging us to do since Matthew 5:  Take inventory of your life.  Do you truly trust in Jesus?  Do your works verify your faith?  (1 Cor 3:9-15; 10:6-12; 11:27-32; 2 Cor 13:5-7; Jam 1:23-24; ch 2; Heb 6:11; 2 Pt 1:10)

 

Let us close these verses with serious self-inquiry.  Let us ask ourselves on which side of Christ we are likely to be on the last day.  Will we be on the right, or will we be on the left?  Happy is he who never rests till he can give a satisfactory answer to this question.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 248)

 

The questions for Christian stewards, for saved trustees, is never the question that first comes to our mind.  Our question is not, “All right, how much do I have to give away?”  That question still assumes we own our wealth.  Our question is far more troubling:  in the face of God and the world’s poor, how much do I dare keep for myself? (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.; Assurances of the Heart, 237)

 

We should be thankful for Jesus’ teachings on judgment because such teachings are intended to create a discomfort that will keep us pressing on.  Our Lord knows that we all want to sit down and relax on the comfortable couch of Christian commitment, and so he has placed these pointed prophetic rocks in the cushions to keep us up and to keep us going.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 757)

 

Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.  The overflow is experienced consciously as the pursuit of our joy in the joy of another.   We double our delights in God as we expand it in the lives of others.   If our ultimate goal were anything less than joy in God, we would be idolaters and would be no eternal help to anyone.  Therefore, the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed.   And if you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God.” (John Piper; Desiring God, 121)

 

Wealth is to be accumulated strictly for doing works of mercy and spreading the kingdom.  Wealth is not to be stored up “for yourselves (Mt 6:19-21).  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 72)

 

If your giving to the needy does not burden you or cut into your lifestyle in any way, you must give more!  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 75)

 

Now we are in a position to see why Jesus (and Isaiah, James, John, and Paul) can use the ministry of mercy as a way to judge between true and false Christianity.  A merely religious person, who believes God will favor him because of his morality and respectability, will ordinarily have contempt for the outcast.  “I worked hard to get where I am, and so can anyone else!”  That is the language of the moralist’s heart.  “I am only where I am by the sheer and unmerited mercy of God.  I am completely equal with all other people.”  That is the language of the Christian’s heart.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 61)

 

So What?:  If you honestly look at your life and see little or no good works without regard for merit, reward, reputation or recognition; be smart enough to look at your heart and ask yourself, “Do I truly have saving faith in Jesus?”  If not, beg Jesus to change your heart. (Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 3:9-15; 2 Cor 5:10; Heb 6:11; 1 Jn 3:14-18; 4:7-21; Rv 20:13)

 

It’s a great pleasure to do a good deed in secret and have it found out only by accident.

 

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, all the good works done in the name of Christ are empty if they are not motivated by love (1 Cor 13:1-3)

 

He who can and does not help the poor is a disgrace to Christianity:  and he who does not lend his hand for the support of the cause of God, is a worthless member of the church.   He who shows no mercy shall have judgement without mercy.   And he who spends in pampering the flesh what should be given to the poor, shall have a fearful account to give in the day of the Lord. (Adam Clarke; Clarke’s Commentary: Vol. III, Matt-Acts, 785)

 

In your old days and before this “living” thing had happened to you, your immediate reaction would have been to decide to do good works and to say, “I am going to turn over a new leaf.  I am going to do this, that and the other.”  But the moment there is true repentance, all that stops.  You renounce your own works, you admit that there is no good thing in you, that all your righteousness is as “filthy rags,” and that obviously there is no point in your deciding to live a better life, or, by a great effort of the will, to serve God, because all you do will still be polluted and therefore useless.

So you do not do that.  You renounce your good works, your self-reliance, and every attempt at self-justification.  This a part of the obedience of faith.  You accept the pronouncement of the Scriptures that none of us can ever justify ourselves before God, that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Rom 3:20).  You accept it completely, and you prove it in action by not attempting to do anything to save yourself.

Then you accept the teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ and His way of salvation.  You accept, you believe this message concerning the Lord Jesus Christ as your Sin-bearer, as the One sent by God to reconcile you to God.  And not only that, you are ready to confess this.  You are ready to acknowledge that He is thus your Savior and your Lord, that He has bought you with a price, that you are not your own, that you have no right to yourself.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 10, 336-7)

 

The last judgment will be a judgment according to evidence.  People’s deeds are the witnesses which will be brought forward, and above all their works of charity.  The question will not merely be what we said, but what we did:  not merely what we professed, but what we practiced.  Our works unquestionably will not justify us:  no one will be declared righteous by observing the law; but the truth of our faith will be tested by our lives.  “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (Jam 2:17).  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 246)

 

The real evidence of our belief is the way we act.  To treat all persons we encounter as if they are Jesus is not easy, for we may not know if they are believers.  What we do for others demonstrates what we really think about Jesus’ word to us–feed the hungry, give the homeless a place to stay, look after the sick.  How well do your actions separate you from pretenders and unbelievers?  Will you be sent away to the place of everlasting punishment or into eternal life?  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 499-500)

 

Do you need to take a mission trip to help the poor, the needy, the homeless, the disenfranchised?   Do you refuse to do any act of charity, service, kindness or good work unless you are asked, you get a tax write-off, a letter of commendation, your name in the paper or a public thank-you?  Beware!   You are likely operating out of a motivation from self-promoting rather than love for man and Jesus.  The first motivation is death.  The second is life and peace.  —Pastor Keith

 

 

Blessed is the man who sees a need and fills it.  PERIOD.  —Pastor Keith

 

No one in Scripture spoke more of judgment than Jesus.  He spoke of sin that could not be forgiven, of the danger of losing one’s soul forever, of spending eternity in the torments of hell, of existing forever in outer darkness, where there will be perpetual weeping and gnashing of teeth.  No pictures of judgment are more intense and sobering than those Jesus portrayed.

Yet nothing Jesus said or did was inconsistent with His gracious love.  He wept at the impending punishment coming on Jerusalem’s people (Lk 19:41-44).  His warnings of judgment and punishment were acts of condemnation that would otherwise be inevitable.  One of love’s supreme desires is to protect those it loves from harm, and Jesus therefore spoke so much of judgment because, in His infinite love and grace, it was not His wish nor the Father’s “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pt 3:9).  What more important and loving warning could there be than warning about the eternal damnation every human being faces apart from Jesus Christ?  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 24-28, 111)

 

I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows.  The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, “If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.”  —Soren Kierkagaard

 

 CHRIST: or

The LEAST?

 

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