Miss Jane Jones was an elderly spinster who lived in a small Southern town. She was the oldest resident of the town. One day she died, and owner of the local tombstone shop was given the task of writing an epitaph for her gravestone. For a woman who lived such a long life, he wanted to put more that just birth and death dates, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized that while Miss Jones had never done anything bad (she had never been arrested or been drunk, or even been noisy), yet she had never actually done anything particularly good either. So he could not think of anything to write. Finally, he solved the problem with a time-honored method. He delegated the responsibility. He had a new man working for him. He told him to do this job. The new man was formerly the sports reporter for the local newspaper, and this former reporter promptly chiseled for all time on the sainted lady’s tombstone the following:
Here lie the bones of Jane Jones,
For her life held no terrors.
She lived an old maid.
She died an old maid.
No hits, no runs, no errors.
Now that is a joke of course, but many Christians seem to regard such a life—with no hits no runs, no errors—as the ideal Christian life. They say a few things about Jesus, and they don’t do anything particularly wrong, and they expect to go to heaven. They don’t cause any trouble, but they don’t cause any good either, but most people say that is OK.
Then we come to this great parable on Judgment in Matthew 25 beginning at v31. The setting is the end of this age. Jesus is pictured on a great throne, surrounded by angels. This is a picture of ultimate power. All the people of the world are gathered before him. Everyone who has ever lived is standing there. Then the Great Separation begins.
Jesus uses a metaphor familiar to his listeners, that of a shepherd. The shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Notice that they are already sheep, who go to the right hand, which is the hand of blessing, or they are already goats who go to the left hand, which is the hand of cursing. This is not a court in any human sense. In a human court, the judge hears arguments for the guilt or innocence of the accused, and renders judgment accordingly. But at this Great Judgment at the end of time, Christ already knows all the evidence. Christ is God, the second person of the Trinity. God is everywhere in every time. God knows every event that happens in the universe. That means God already knows everything there is to know about us. Thus, the outcome of the Great Judgment is already determined. To use the language of the parable, we are already sheep or already goats.
In this age, the sheep, the righteous, are mixed with the goats, the unrighteous, and we cannot tell the difference, but at the end of the age, Christ, who already knows the difference, will make the Great Separation so that the righteous have their reward—which is to live in the presence of Christ—and the unrighteous have their reward which is to be forever separated from that presence.
Now you might ask, how did the sheep get to be sheep and the goats get to be goats? How do the people of the kingdom get to be the people of the kingdom and how do the people of Satan get to be that way?
Jesus answers that question in vs35-36, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'
In other words, Jesus says to his people, you are my people because when I was in need, when I was in trouble, you took care of me.
Then, in the parable, these righteous folks ask: When did that happen? When did we ever take care of you, Lord?
And Jesus replied in V40, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these … you did it to me.” Jesus says, when you helped a person in need, you helped me.
And then he talks to the other group, the goats. He says in v41. He says, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” He tells them why they are accursed—because when he was in need, they did not help. And they ask the same question: “When did we ever meet you in need. Lord?”
Jesus gives the same answer: Whenever you met anyone in need, you met me. You should have helped others and you didn’t; therefore, Jesus says, in 45, “Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” He concludes the parable in v46. The goats, the non-doers, are the unrighteous and they go to “eternal punishment,” but the sheep are the doers, the righteous, and they go to “eternal life.”
Thus, this parable on the Last Judgment is a parable about ministry. Jesus is defining ministry. Now we usually think of a minister as a person who has been to seminary and been ordained, and who preaches in church on Sunday. If someone asked you who is the minister of York Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, you would probably answer “that rascal Tony Grant.” Wrong answer. By Jesus’ definition, everyone in the church is called to ministry, everyone is a minister.
It used to be the custom 50 0r 75 years ago for the local churches to sponsor city-wide tent revivals. This was obviously before air conditioning.
At one such revival, the town had brought in an old evangelist, and he preached a burning sermon on salvation. At the end of the sermon, the evangelist wanted the people to come down to the front of the tent to profess their belief in Christ, and he wanted counselors there to talk to them when they came. So he asked all the ministers of the town to come forward before he gave the invitation to congregation. And while the ministers were coming down, they had a series of rousing hymns, and the evangelist went down to greet the ministers.
The various ministers introduced themselves. One said, “I am the minister at First Baptist,” another said, “I am the minister at First Presbyterian,” still another said, “I am the minister at the Methodist church.” Then the evangelist came to a young man who looked embarrassed, like someone who has just realized he is guilty of a major faux pas. The evangelist took him by the hand and said, “And where do you preach?”
The young man said, “I don’t preach. I just became a Christian a few weeks ago, and when you asked all the ministers to come down, I thought you meant people who wanted to help others, and I want to do that.”
Whereupon the evangelist said, “Son, I think you are the only one here who knows what the word ‘ministry’ means.” A minister is someone who wants to minister to others, to help others. Every Christian, by virtue of being a Christian, is called to be a minister. All the righteous, Jesus said in the parable, are ministers, because they actually do something for others. And only ministers have eternal life. The only people who are going to be with Jesus at the end of the age are ministers.
So, let’s give a little test now, and see if you have been paying attention. Question: Who is the minister at the York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church? Your answer is, I am.
And note what kind of ministry you are supposed to have. In this parable on Judgment Day, Jesus leaves no possibility for a negative interpretation of the Christian life. We are not called to be like Jane Jones and just never do anything bad. We are called to do good. We are called to help others, and we are assured that when we help others, we are in fact helping Christ.
The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, wrote a short story entitled “Martin Avdeitch.” Martin Avdeitch was a shoemaker. He was also a devout Christian who read deeply in his New Testament. He began to think about what he would do if Jesus actually came to his town, to his house, to visit him. Thinking about this one evening, he dozed off to sleep.
Someone whispered his name. Immediately, he was awake. “Who is there,” he said. He looked around but saw no one. Then he heard these words, “Martin, Martin, look thou into the street tomorrow, for I am coming to visit thee.” Somehow he knew that this was Jesus. Jesus was coming to visit him tomorrow. He was so excited he couldn’t sleep that night. He cleaned up his shop, he cleaned up his house, he cleaned up himself. Jesus was coming.
Early next day, he had shoes to make, so he started to work while he was waiting for Jesus, but he kept glancing out the window. He saw an old man clearing snow with a shovel. After a while, the old man stopped for a break. It is a hard cold day, and so the shoemaker invited him inside for a cup of hot tea, and told him to stand by the heater and warm up. After awhile the old man went back out to shovel snow again.
Several hours go by. Martin continues to look for Jesus. Presently he sees a woman. She dressed in rags, and carrying a baby wrapped in rags. She stops at the shoemaker’s window, trying vainly to wrap the baby better against the cold. Martin hears the baby crying miserably. He cannot stand to see a child suffer. He invites the woman in, has her sit by the heater, gives her something to eat, finds some milk for the baby. When she leaves, he gives her an old coat to wear.
More time goes by, the shoemaker works on. He wonders when Jesus is going to come and what Jesus will say and what he will say in response. He sees another woman in the street. She has a bag of apples in one hand and a bag of shavings in the other. She has been selling the apples and collecting the shavings for her fire that night. A boy runs past her and grabs an apple, but as he tries to run off, she grabs him by the sleeve and holds on. He is yelling and struggling to get away. She is yelling that she will do mayhem and murder. The shoemaker runs out and separates the two. “He stole the apple,” she says. “I did not.” he says. “Don’t lie,” said the shoemaker to the boy, “I saw you steal the apple, now give it back to her and apologize.” The boy burst into tears, returned the apple, and said he was sorry.
The shoemaker then bought an apple from the woman and gave it to the boy. The woman protested saying, He ought to be whipped for what he did. Martin said, “Lady, we all ought to be whipped for our sins, but we will forgive the boy this time.”
Then Martin went back to his work. The day was soon totally gone, and Martin Avdeitch was disappointed. Jesus had promised he was coming. Where was he? Then Martin heard the voice again, the voice of Jesus, and Jesus said, “I enjoyed visiting with you today Martin, I will come again sometimes.”
The point of Tolstoy’s short story is obvious. “Just as you did it to one of the least of these … you did it to me.”
Martin Avdeitch was a minister. His ministry was to Jesus. When he helped others, he fulfilled his ministry. You are a minister. Your ministry is to Jesus. When you help others, you fulfill your ministry. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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Last modified 08/19/06