Posts Tagged With: baptism

Sheep and Goats

Sheep and Goats
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 throne in heavenly glory. 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, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers 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, ‘I tell you the truth, 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.”

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One of the more esoteric and potentially frightening texts in the New Testament is this Matthew 25 recounting of Jesus’ “The Sheep and Goats” narrative. Who exactly are these sheep? Or these goats? How best do we interpret this passage given the historic and religious contexts in which Jesus taught?

The gospel of Matthew, a biography of Jesus written from a Jewish perspective, builds on the theme of final judgment across chapters 23-25; culminating in crescendo in this agrarian/shepherd metaphor with its intended message aimed primarily at its religious Jewish audience.

Intentionally, this passage is intricately linked with the preceding parable of the ten virgins (vs.1-13) and the parable of the talents (vs.14-30). When these are taken altogether, the core message is unmistakable: Be prepared, get ready, the bridegroom/master/shepherd/king is coming!

In this devotional, we will look at the sheep and goats as well as the shepherd-king who tends them.

1. SHEEP and GOATS

Sheep & Goats Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Sheep & Goats
Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

The simile used by Jesus would make perfect sense to his hearers in 1st century Palestine agrarian society.  While sheep and goats have many similarities, they do diverge within scientific classification: Each is a specific species and genus with a differing amount of chromosomes. All that to say that shepherds would tend them together, but at a certain point would separate them for whatever their final destination or use might be.

But who is Jesus speaking of? Who are these sheep and goats? This passage can be somewhat obscure in that there have historically been a couple different ways it has been interpreted.

  • One way this passage has been interpreted is in a social-justice framework:  That Jesus is speaking about how they, the religious Jews, treat the poor and disadvantaged in their midst.  The scholars who come to this conclusion do so in taking the terms food, drink, clothes, sick, and prison in a mostly literal sense while defining the “least of these” (vs.40,45) as being the needy within the community. Therefore, the application to today would be that the Church must take care of the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized in our society (and across the globe); delivering loving care and justice in Jesus’ name.

  • Another way this passage has been interpreted is in a disciple-specific framework: That Jesus is speaking about the way the outsiders (nations and individuals) welcome and treat his disciples, including those who would become his followers generations later.  The scholars who interpret the text this way come to this conclusion by taking the terms food, drink, etc as mostly figurative (think Jesus’ statements such as Jn 6:35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”). They also emphasize the definition of the word “brothers” (adelphos ἀδελφός) in vs.40 to mean Christian believers; especially those who are marginalized and even persecuted for their faith in Christ.

So which is it? Treat the poor and disadvantaged well? Or treat the followers of Christ (with their message) well?  Certainly both explanations of this text have validity and, in a strong sense, both are true.

Goats Be Sayin'

Goats Be Sayin’

But if we step further and take into account other parables of Jesus such as the “Wheat and the Tares” (Mt 13:24-30) as well as “A Tree and its Fruit” (Mt 7:21-23) with it’s “Depart from me, I never knew you” climax, it becomes more clear that Jesus is explaining that within the Church (what theologians call the “Visible Church”; those inside the community, claiming to be participants), there is a subset of true regenerated followers of Christ side-by-side with a subset of others who are not.  Whether these others are “playing church” or deeply in denial about their relationship with Jesus (or any other reason) we simply don’t know.

Here is what we do know: In the Church of Jesus Christ, there are both sheep and goats who share a similar outward appearance and yet possess a completely different makeup in their internal spiritual DNA.

To restate it another way, the contrast that Jesus makes is between those who are focused and centered primarily on Him, with a resulting concern for others (sheep) -vs- those who are focused and centered primarily on themselves with a resulting self-focus on their own well-being, reputation, approval, and comfort (goats).

And Jesus communicates that the final outcome (and proof) per verse 46 is eternal life for the sheep and eternal punishment for the goats.  Since our text doesn’t give us any more particulars on what that punishment entails, suffice it to say as per C.S. Lewis’ famous quote from The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” (Chap. 9, pp 72-73).

This topic may be uncomfortable to many.  We’re typically not used to considering that those who are sitting side-by-side with us in pews (and especially those up on platforms preaching and leading) might not be truly “sheep” after all.  It’s a very sobering thought but the bottom line is that we are not to look at others and ask whether they are sheep or goats (or wheat or tares), but instead to look at ourselves; to take spiritual stock of the work of God’s Holy Spirit within our own hearts.

Christ the King Icon

Christ the King Icon

Is Jesus Christ living his life internally within our hearts to the degree where his love flows out in care, compassion, and service to others? Are we enthralled with the King to the point that the good works we perform are so innate and inherent to our Christ-filled souls that we’re not always even aware of performing them? If we are asking those questions with sincerity, that’s a good sign. And, as always, we’re called to a continual life of repentance; receiving grace where we continually fall short.

2. The Shepherd-King

Jesus’ message of warning across the entire gospel of Matthew is clear:  Get ready and be prepared, for the Lord is coming. Though he initially came to Bethlehem in incarnational humility and poverty, he will return in full divine glory (doxa δόξα) to “sit on his throne ” (vs 31), where he will rule and reign over everyone and everything forever.

Therefore Jesus is not only the absolute fulfillment of the shepherd metaphor in all of scripture, but of the kingly imagery as well. He is everything that matters.

So we can trust and rely that his judgments are good and perfect because he sees beyond the externals into the deep internal place in our hearts where he resides by the power of His Holy Spirit.

#Wade S

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From the gospel reading for the “Feast of William Wilberforce, 1833”.  Wilberforce was leader of British abolition movement to eradicate race-based slavery.
(the end)

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Categories: Christian Service, Devotional, Final Judgment, Good Shepherd, Sheep and Goats, Social Justice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Empowerment of Approval (Temptation of Jesus in Desert pt.1)

The EMPOWERMENT of Approval

MATTHEW 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’  5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’  7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’  11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

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Immediately after Jesus is baptized by John, he is led by the Holy Spirit directly into the desert for a crucial preliminary test of his character and mission.  It. is. ON!!!!

JesusTemptedintheDesertIconAnd it boils down to this: Does Jesus indisputably believe the words of affirmation and approval spoken earlier by the Father at the river?  Can Jesus (in his humanity) truly rest in and rely upon his Father’s goodness and love to provide and guide him along the journey towards fulfilling his mission?  Or will the enemy be able to plant enough of a doubt in his mind to warp and twist Jesus into being willing to short-cut the redemptive plan?

Some important considerations stand out in this passage.  In this first part of a three part Lenten series, the focus will be on the immediate link between Jesus’ baptism and his being tested in the wilderness.

And what might that link between those two events be?  It is the empowerment that comes in hearing the fatherly words of approval and affirmation.

No doubt the words Jesus had just heard from the Father, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17, Lk 3:22), were emotionally and spiritually energizing.  To rise up from the water and be reminded of this eternal all-encompassing delight would certainly empower Jesus for any task that might be ahead, one would think.

The immediate task for Jesus was this preliminary forty days of fasting (and, we’d surmise, praying) in the desert before his official public ministry was to be launched.  This Greek word “eremos” translated desert or wilderness (v.1) describes a very solitary, lonely, desolate, and secluded place.  Think about it:  There’s no audible voice of the Father heard there, and there’s no Holy Spirit descending in bodily form as a dove there either.  Jesus is alone and lonely.  He’s away from crowds and all by himself.  In essence, Jesus has been dropped from spiritual “high” to “low” almost immediately.  It’s so obvious, and so many of us have experienced this type of abrupt transition, though not in such an extreme form,  that it’s almost predictable; even expected.

How it all began was that right at Jesus’ weakest point, when hunger pangs were the strongest, the enemy came to tempt him. In reality, the word “temptation” doesn’t even begin to do justice to the cosmic battle that was being played out in the desert.

Here’s why:  The word tempted, translated from the Greek “peirazo”,  means to try, to attempt, to conduct a trial.  What was taking place was more than simply the devil testing Jesus’ character to see if he was a good (god-man) person.  No; it was a three-pronged (pun intended) attempt to powerfully sabotage Jesus’ redemptive calling.  Not so ironically, this word “peirazo” was used six times by Matthew in his gospel: Two times about the devil and four times about the Pharisees and religious leaders.  Notice the not-so-subtle connection there.  Basically, it was about anything and everything to keep Christ away from the cross for obvious reasons:  No cross, no redemption!

The FIRST assault of this three-pronged attack came by way of the devil masterfully manipulating God’s words of affirmation “You are my son…” when he intimated to Jesus that if that statement was indeed accurate, and if God was truly a loving Father who would give a hungry son bread, not a stone (see Mt 7:9 for the context), Jesus should then use his divine powers to miraculously change stones into bread.  “You are starving, why not?” we could imagine the private dialog playing out.  “If you died of starvation, what good would you be to anyone anyway, let alone fulfill a redemptive plan from eternity past?”

Jesus countered that first assault by quoting scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3, where it is written that “man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”.  Jesus had other bread, other food, to fuel him in his faithfulness.  He had the powerfully energizing words of approval and affirmation to ruminate on; his food was God’s word!

The SECOND assault was when the Satan took Jesus (likely in a vision?) to the holy city to stand at the very tip-top peak of the Jerusalem Temple.  Again, the enemy is strongly manipulating those baptismic words of affirmation by again asking, “if you are the Son of God…”  IF!  Another “if”!   The accuser tends to try to cast doubt and confusion over the veracity of the love of the Father.

But Jesus had focus.  The empowerment of fatherly approval and affirmation helped bring the fortitude and longsuffering necessary in order to thwart this obvious attempt to get Jesus to “show off” and earn human worship by jumping from the peak.  The enemy’s plan, it seems, was that the angels would somehow catch Jesus, or that Jesus would float down safely like a cat with nine lives.  Though we can only speculate what might have happened had he jumped, and of course he wouldn’t have and he didn’t, but the intended result would be that the people would worship Jesus NOW, apart from his going the full journey towards the cross and resurrection;  thereby disrupting the cosmic redemptive plan.

So Jesus blocked this potential sabotage like he did the first attempt, by quoting scripture.  In this instance, it was Deuteronomy 6:16.  He would not put his God, his Father, the one who loves and delights in him, to the test by performing magic tricks like some first century David Copperfield or Criss Angel sleight-of-hand master magician.  No!  Certainly it is true that Jesus would indeed earn worship, that one day “every knee would bow ” (Isa 45:23, Rom 14:11, Phil 2:10-11) and that even the “stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40) under his kingship, but this would take place later, and for something wholly different and something that would have cosmic and eternal consequences.

Finally the THIRD assault took place when the enemy showed Jesus all the kingdoms and nations of the world in what Luke describes as “an instant”.   An instantaneous victory-reel of visionary footage intended to nudge Jesus to accept his due power now, before the cross; to try and get Jesus to institute his royal kingdom on earth now, completely apart from the death and resurrection that awaited him down the road.

Jesus thwarted this attack by quoting scripture as well.  He quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 to insist that the worship that would indeed be due to himself should most appropriately be directed to the LORD God in their full trinitarian glory, not prematurely only to Jesus himself outside of his upcoming redemptive act on the cross, death, and resurrection.  The three persons of the trinity act, work, and love in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity.  The kingdom would come, and the kingdom was here (in Christ), but on God’s terms, obviously not on Satan’s or anyone else’s terms.

So much was taking place in this packed narrative and so much more could be said, but in a nutshell, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit of God into the desolate wilderness for a preparatory period of forty days before the official public launch of his redemptive ministry.  In his solitude and hunger, he feasted on the Word of God; especially those recent audible words of approval and affirmation.  His power during these attacks was that his eternal Father delighted all-encompassingly in his eternal Son, and this brought empowerment and faithfulness for the journey ahead.

#Wade

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Coming Next:

Part 2: The Embodiment of Scripture (What is up with the quoting back and forth of Old Testament verses? What does it all mean?)

Part 3: The Embracing of Calling (There is one thing lacking between all that Jesus had then, and all he would have after the cross, and that makes all the difference; to him and to us!)

Categories: Baptism of Jesus, Devotional, Jesus' Early Years, Lent, Testing in the Desert | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baptism Of Jesus pt.1 (The Trinity)

“THE TRINITY: GOD IS THREE-IN-ONE”

Matthew 3:16-17  After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water ; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”   (read also cf. Mk 1:9-11, Lk 3:21-22, Jn 1:31-34)

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Trinity-560x560The foundational concept of the Trinity, which wasn’t specifically named until many years later, is very clearly, though mysteriously, in glorious display here at Jesus’ Baptism.  Our God, the God of the Bible, is not to be simplistically identified in any modalistic or any other (subsequently discredited) reductionistic framework.  Instead, in this Matthew 3 passage, and echoed across all four gospel narratives, the Trinity is evident:  God is one, there are three distinct persons of the godhead, and they work together in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity.

In the baptismic scene captured in these gospel narratives, each individual person of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has a distinctly separate and yet simultaneous activity.  Packed into this dynamic narrative is a great deal of concise theological information, for at the moment Jesus comes up from the water, there is…

  • The Father– speaking words of affirmation and approval to the Son (more on this  in part 2).
  • The Son– willingly fulfilling all righteousness by being baptized (more on this in part 3).
  • The Holy Spirit– descending from the sky/heaven in bodily form, lighting upon Jesus, and signifying to John Baptist (by “remaining on him”) that Jesus is indeed the One whom history has been desperately waiting for; the Messiah.

In this baptismal scene at the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit took on the form of a dove.  This dove image is packed with important concepts for us to discover.  First, the dove is symbolic in biblical imagery referring to peace.  Second, the dove was the very poorest Jewish family’s sacrifice for sin (as they could not afford any other animal for sacrifice).  Third, the dove was the very item being sold in the Temple Courts by the moneychangers which infuriated our Lord so much upon arriving in Jerusalem.

In the Mark account of our Lord’s Baptism (1:9-11), Mark describes heaven as being “TORN open”; Mark writes using the Greek word “schizo” which means to be split into two and this was the very same word used later in Mk 15:38 of the veil of the Temple being violently ripped in half at the precise moment of Christ’s death on the cross … as he cried out, “It is finished”.

All three persons of the Trinity are at play here to launch Jesus’ public ministry, and all three persons of the Trinity always act in unity to accomplish God’s good purposes throughout eternity.

There is a lot that’s mysterious and unknown about all this, but the bit that we do know, much of it we get from these passages on our Lord’s Baptism.

#Wade

Categories: Baptism of Jesus, Devotional, Trinity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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