Listening to Jesus

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 25 and Genesis 49 & 50

                I Love stories, don’t you?

Here’s a story by CS Lewis found in the book: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as retold by Jennifer Neyhart:

               “Eustace is a character you kind of just want to punch in the face until his transformation experience with Aslan. He was arrogant, self-centered, and all around annoying to Edmund and Lucy.

On one of the islands the crew lands on, Eustace finds a dragon’s lair and is very greedy for the treasure. He puts on a gold bracelet and falls asleep, and when he wakes up, he has been turned into a dragon. Lewis writes, “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” Eustace had fleeting thoughts of relief at being the biggest thing around, but he quickly realizes he is cut off from his friends, and all of humanity, and he feels a weight of loneliness and desperately wants to change.

That night, Aslan comes to Eustace and leads him to a large well “like a very big round bath with marble steps going down into it.” Eustace describes the scene to Edmund after the fact. He says the water was so clear and he thought if he could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in his leg (from the gold bracelet he had put on when he was human). But Aslan told him he had to undress first. And doesn’t God ask this of us? As Lewis wrote in Letters to Malcolm: “We must lay before him [God] what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”

Eustace found that no matter how many layers of dragon skins he managed to peel off of himself, he was still a dragon.

“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off … And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…” – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

 This scene always grabs my heart. It reminds me that I cannot fix myself. It paints a beautiful picture of baptism and transformation to new life. It humbles me as I put myself in Eustace’s place. And even long after our initial baptism we have the ongoing challenge of surrendering to God’s work in our lives which can be painful at times, even when it’s a good pain.

And I like Lewis’s note of narration at the end of this scene as well:

“It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”        

https://www.jenniferneyhart.com/2014/10/c-s-lewis-undragoning-of-eustace.html

End of Story.

Jeff’s comments:

                Stories have a way of capturing our attention and keeping our interest.  In a really good story like the undragoning of Eustace we might discover after reading it that it stays with us, that it somehow changes the way we see the world or the way that we are in the world.

                Jesus was a master storyteller.  Throughout the Gospels we hear him telling stories, and amazing stories they were as they somehow manage to transcend time and place and language and cultural barriers.

                In Matthew 25 Jesus tells three stories.  One story is about bridesmaids and oil, one is about masters and servants and bags of gold, and one is about sheep and goats.  Jesus told these stories just a few days before he was to be arrested, tried, condemned and nailed to a Roman cross and publicly executed. 

If you’ve ever been around someone who knew that they were going to die soon, you know that near the end of life people usually want to focus on those things which are most important.  They want to say “ I love you” to people they care about.  They want to say “ I’m sorry” to the people they have hurt or they want to say “I forgive you” to the people who have hurt them.  Since Jesus is running out of time and opportunities to preach and teach before his arrest you can imagine that what he has to say is very important to him. This is Jesus saying “I love you” to people he cared deeply about.

I encourage you to read and reflect on those stories in Matthew 25. 

Why is he talking about weddings and bridesmaids and having enough oil and the danger of missing out on the wedding banquet?  What does he want us to do or not do?

Why is he talking about a rich landowner going away on a long trip and leaving behind something valuable and asking his trusted workers to manage his valuable gold well?  What does he want us to do or not do?

Why is he talking about sheep and goats and why is he praising and rewarding some for the good things they do to help others (and him) and condemning  and punishing others for the good things that they fail to do to help others (and him)?  What does he want us to do or not do?

Spend some time thinking about each story.  Imagine yourself there in the story.  What’s it like to be a bridesmaid who wasn’t ready and missed out on your friend’s wedding?  What’s it like to be a worker who gets praised and rewarded for working hard when the master returns?  What’s it like to be called a goat (not The G.O.A.T. –a.k.a. Michael Jordan or Drew Brees) but a goat who failed to care for the sick, the hungry, the prisoners and the naked and gets turned away by Jesus?

Listen to Jesus’ stories and allow them to teach you whatever Jesus wants you to learn.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Test Yourself!

Matthew 25

Today as we look at Matthew 25 we should take notice that though we are starting a new chapter the context surrounding this chapter is the same as that of chapter 24. Matthew 24 and 25 are a single unit of thought. This can be seen in verse 1 with the word “then” (the NIV says “at that time”) indicating what Jesus was speaking about in chapter 24 is continuing into chapter 25. The focus of the chapter is about the end of this age when Jesus returns and the judgement that he will enact. 

There are three pictures of judgement in chapter 25. The first two are parables (the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents) and the last one is a description of the judgement scene. 

In the first parable there are ten virgins who wait for the bridegroom. The bridegroom delays in appearing and all fall asleep but suddenly the bridegroom appears but only five are ready for the bridegroom while the other five are not ready and they are denied entrance into the wedding feast. The virgins denied entrance are then told by the bridegroom he never knew them. 

The second parable is about a master and his slaves. The master gives each slave a talent (an amount of money) and went on a journey. When the master returns only two of the three slaves honored the master with what they were given. The third slave squandered his talent and is rebuked by the master and the slave is thrown out into the outer darkness.

The third picture of judgement involves Jesus separating goats from sheep among the nations. The sheep and goats represent those who belong to Jesus and those who do not. The sheep (believers) are rewarded with the kingdom and the goats (non-believers) are cast into hell with satan and his demons. 

What are we to make of this chapter? What does Jesus want us to learn from these three pictures of judgement? I believe it is this.

There is a judgement coming and not everyone who calls themself a Christian will enter into life. The reality is, not everyone who calls themself a Christian is a true believer. In all three teachings there is one group of people who are then divided into those who are accepted and those who are rejected. Many people comprise the Church but not everyone who attends church is a true believer. The judgement of Christ sorts out the self-deceived from the real believers. Jesus himself teaches this earlier in Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43 in the parable of the tares. And he also teaches this in Matthew 7.21-22. 

Who are you? Are you deceived or a true believer in Christ? The five virgins were accepted into the feast because they were ready and prepared. The 2 slaves were honored by the master because they were faithful with what the master had given them. And the sheep entered the kingdom because they loved and served other Christians in need. 

A true believer will have evidence of salvation in their life. A true believer bears the fruit of the spirit, they grow in holiness, they grow in their disdain for sin, they hunger for the scriptures, they serve other Christians and people. A real believer matures and grows in Christ.

Paul tells the Corinthians in II Cor. 13.5 to test themselves against the scriptures to see if they are in the faith. Compare yourself to scripture and to the words of Jesus. Have you really received salvation from God? In addition to this, talk with mature believers closest to you about this serious matter if you question your salvation.

-Jacob Rohrer

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 25

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 26 and Mark 14.

Investment 101

investment 101

Matthew 25

Jesus just finished telling his disciples to expect His return. Now he tells parables about how we should prepare for the return. It’s always nice to have concrete instructions. These ones are in the form of parables, but they aren’t terribly cryptic.

The first parable is about a wedding. There are a bunch of people waiting to meet up with the groom so that they can go to a feast with him. Initially, there are ten of these people patiently waiting. They were expecting him to arrive during the day, but on his way, he was delayed. Once the sun fell, only five of them stayed to wait for the groom because they were prepared for darkness. They thought ahead and brought extra supplies.

In this parable, Jesus is the groom and we are the virgins or bridesmaids waiting for his arrival. Notice that initially there were many who expected his coming. Most of us reading this believe that Jesus will come back. There have been times in the past when a biblical scholar has declared that he deduced the time at which Jesus would return (you can find a nice list of these occurrences on Wikipedia). I imagine many of the people who ended up believing these claims were disappointed when the proclaimed date rolled by without ushering the Kingdom of God. Many of them probably fell away from faith because they had expected their groom to show up during the day, yet they failed to wait through the night. The same is true now. Even if we don’t see an exact date for His return, we must continue to wait. We must be especially aware that soon the sun will set. Darkness will fall. But that doesn’t mean that the groom has forgotten his people and his feast. In fact, darkness will certainly precede His coming.

The second parable is about a hedge fund manager. This man gives his underlings various amounts of seed money and expects them to use it wisely. More precisely, he expects huge returns out of them. Two of his employees manage to achieve returns of 100%. The final employee merely broke even. Of course, the manager is happy with the first two. The returns that they managed are nearly unheard of. For example, to get a 100% return on your investment today, you would have had to invest in Apple stock 5 years ago (more precisely, April 17, 2014). The parable doesn’t tell us how long the manager was away, just that it was a long time. Long-term investment is one of the safer ways to grow your money and short-term investments are considerably riskier. Perhaps the third employee knew this and said, “Rather than take a loss on my boss’s money, I’ll just sit on it.” Perhaps this employee thought his manager would only be gone for 3 months. If he had invested in Apple stock three months ago, then he would have lost 27% of what he invested. That wouldn’t make the manager terribly happy, but the 0% gains that he presented still provoked the manager’s anger. The manager said that he would be gone for a long time, but the third employee didn’t take that to heart and decided to do nothing.

Shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers. The Holy Spirit is the investment that Jesus gives us. The Spirit gives us each special gifts. In Romans 12:6-8, Paul lists a few of them: prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leading, showing mercy. These are the talents that Jesus gives to us. He expects us to invest these gifts for the long-term. This might mean pursuing one person for years to show them the Love and Truth of Jesus. In can be risky to try to convert someone in a day, like a short-term investment. You win that person over, but you could also completely ostracize them forever. This short-term investment is certainly not ideal compared to the safer returns of long-term investment in people. Jesus wants to get returns on the gifts that he gives to you. So put them to use for the long-term.

The final parable is like the first two. Some will claim to know Jesus, and some will serve Jesus. Those who serve will be like the sheep, separated from the goats and placed at the right hand of the King. Those who never believed, or who believed but refused to serve, refused to make a return on the investment that Jesus gave them, will be tossed out. They will be tossed out just as the devil himself will be tossed out. But the righteous, those who invest wisely, will receive eternal life.

-Nathaniel Johnson