This is the final parable of judgment. In fact, it's the very end of Jesus' teaching. This parable is part of what happens in between the Triumphal Entry and the last supper. In the book of Matthew, everything after this text is story. This is the end of Jesus' response to the disciples wanting to know when they can expect the "end of the age." Jesus tells them that nobody knows when that will be. So the point is how we live in the meantime.
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This morning we are going to spend a few minutes looking at another one of Jesus' parables of judgment. Our worship this morning centers around the communion table, and in a few minutes we are also going to welcome in some new members. The parables of judgment describe a kingdom where God includes everyone before we have the chance to exclude ourselves, and we're going to hear another example of that this morning. This parable is one in a series that Jesus tells about the timing of God's arrival.
For the past several weeks we have been exploring together the parables of Jesus, the stories he uses to describe his mysterious Kingdom. Describe it, but not explain it. Parables tend to raise as many questions as they answer, and that's certainly the case this morning. In the gospels, Jesus tells three kinds of parables. There are parables of the kingdom, where the point is the kingdom grows in a mystery (like mustard seeds and yeast). There are parables of grace, where the kingdom is accomplished by death and resurrection (like the prodigal son).
For the past several weeks we have been exploring together a couple of the parables of Jesus. These parables are the stories that Jesus uses to describe his mysterious Kingdom. Describe, but not explain. Parables tend to ask as many questions as they answer. They don't lend themselves to a nice correlation of this equals this. Parables are designed to throw us off balance and make us think. There are parables of the Kingdom, which Jesus tells and does between the feeding of the 5,000 and the Transfiguration.
This morning we begin a series on the parables of Jesus. Not all of them, because there are a lot. But a few of them. A few parables of grace and a few parables of judgment. Grace first, so we are grounded in the right thing. This is how we are going to spend Lent and wrap up our study of Matthew. Parables are fascinating. Jesus told lots of them; all the gospels record at least some of them. The Greek word for parable simply means comparing one thing with another. But parables are NOT simple. We often assume they are simple because they are stories and they are short.
This morning we continue in a similar theme from last week. Since last time, Jesus has been traveling, healing both Jews and Gentiles, teaching, and generally ticking off the religious establishment. So you know, standard Jesus stuff. This morning we come back around to interactions specifically involving Jesus and Peter. Peter is an important guy in the stories of Jesus' life and ministry, not because he's better than anyone else, but because he's just like everyone else. He's just like us. We are supposed to see ourselves in Peter. He's enthusiastic in his desire to follow Jesus.
For several weeks we have been focusing on the teachings of Jesus. And in a few weeks we're going to work through some of the parables of Jesus. But here for a couple weeks we're going to do some actual stories about Jesus himself and the things he did, not just what he said. By the time we get to chapter 14 this morning, we are halfway through the gospel of Matthew, and at this point, something really terrible happens. John the Baptist is killed by Herod. Jesus cousin and his friend, the one who baptized him, the one after whom Jesus originally modeled his message.
This week we are going to read the most radical thing that Jesus ever said. Jesus says a lot of great things. But this is world-changing, mess-with-your-head, everybody's-going-to-hate-this, radical. It's so good. And it's part of the pattern that we saw established last week. Jesus is revealing to his followers the principles behind the Old Testament laws. This Law was given to the ancient Hebrew people as they came out of slavery in Egypt, for their own well-being and as a testimony to the other people groups who lived around them.
We are going to spend two more weeks on the Sermon on the Mount before we keep moving through Matthew but then this summer we're going to come back to it. In Matthew's spiritual biography of Jesus, the sermon on the mount is Jesus' core ethical teaching, his manifesto on how his followers are to live in the world. If you've ever read it you know it's not easy. And so I begin by reminding us that the things that are really worth it are rarely easy. But they are possible. This sermon was not given to high-minded religious scholars anxious to debate the finer points of theology.
A few weeks ago we read the origin story of Jesus from Joseph's perspective and realized that Immanuel means "love with us." On Christmas Eve we mixed all our gospel stories together in one bowl, which is what we usually do. But really they are very different. From now until Easter, we are going to focus our discussions on the gospel according to Matthew. The genre of gospel is something unique in literature. It's not a novel, but it's also not a strict biography. The gospels are not concerned with the hard facts about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
We are almost at the end of our Romans series; next week is the final week, so this week we are going to hear some of chapters 7 and 8. Before we hear the text this morning, I want to say a couple things about definitions. Remember how I have told you in the past that every translation of the Bible does interpretation simply through the words the translators choose? That's VERY true in this passage. Now sometimes what we need is some good interpretive translation. A word-for-word translation doesn't always give us the clearest meaning because there's a big difference between ancient Greek and modern English. But since it's easy to get confused, here are a few definitions that I would like you to keep in mind as you listen.