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James Merritt - Coming Back

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    James Merritt - Coming Back
TOPICS: Seeing Red

So a few years ago, Entertainment Weekly published a list of the 23 worst spoilers in the last 25 years of film. And they said that the most ruined movie plot was the 1999 suspense thriller called "The Sixth Sense". How many of you saw "The Sixth Sense"? How many of you have never seen "The Sixth Sense"? Okay, good. Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist, his name is Dr. Malcolm Crowe, and how many of you said you've not seen it? Raise your hand, okay, you haven't seen it, okay. Well, let me just tell you this, Dr. Crowe was dead the whole time. All right.

So I know I'm sorry, shouldn't have done it, gave the spoiler alert, forgive me, but y'all really go see it because it is a great movie and I know you hate people that spoil movies like that and I just did it and I've always thought that movies spoilers, people, I mean, don't you just hate it. You'd say, hey, have you seen this movie yet? Oh yeah, man, it was great, he dies in the end. This kind of ruins the whole thing, right? And you think these people are so hateful and sadistic and they're party-poopers, and you think in your heart, they deserve capital punishment. Well, before you get too mad at me, if you've not seen the movie, I want you to consider this which really shocked me.

Not long ago, to UC San Diego researchers conducted a study and they found out that spoilers don't actually ruin stories. As a matter of fact, they ran three experiments using 12 stories and discovered people, listen to this, people consistently enjoyed the story more if the ending had been spoiled than if they were hanging in suspense. That shocked me. And one of the researchers gave this too about why people like to know the end of the story before it ends, here's what they said. "So it could be that once you know how it turns out, it is cognitively easier, you are more comfortable processing the information and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story". Now, I never thought about that.

So, now you can go watch "The Sixth Sense" this week and if you love it, you can send me a fruit basket and a thank you note, all right. Now, by the way, let me just tell you how I know this is true and this is really apropos for me today. I record every Georgia football game, it's automatic, I record every one of them. Now I do it for two reasons, first of all, sometimes I'm out of the country or I might miss it for some reason, and I can watch it or even if I went to the game or I watched it on TV, I can watch it again. However, guess what? I only watch it one time or over and over if they won. That's right, I won't be watching yesterday's game anymore, it will be erased.

Now, if this is true, if what they said is true that spoilers don't actually spoil, Jesus does us a big favor in Matthew 25. I invite you to turn in your Bible or iPad or iPhone or whatever, to Matthew 25. There are four Gospels in the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, first gospel, Matthew 25. Jesus gives us a big spoiler alert at the end of His ministry. He waits until He gets to the very end, He knows he's about to die, He knows He's about to leave this earth and he says, Okay, I'm gonna give you a spoiler alert. I'm gonna tell you what you can expect after the end of your life and after the end of the world. It is a preview of coming attractions. By the way, there's another spoiler alert to His spoiler alert. He not only tells us what's going to happen when our life is over, and when this world comes to an end, He also says and oh by the way, while I'm in the neighborhood, I'm gonna tell you how you can know whether or not you're going to live happily ever after or not.

Well, it's a fitting ending to the series we've been calling, "Seeing Read," and so we've been studying the various things that made Jesus angry, and you're gonna learn something very shocking today in Matthew 25. Jesus get gets angry, He does, there are things that make Jesus angry. But it's not just what people do that make Jesus angry is what people don't do that gets Jesus very upset. And it all revolves around ignoring people who are needy, who have hearts so hard, they don't even realize there is a need.

Now, one final spoiler alert. What we're about to read concerns an event, let me just be honest with you, and those who are listening, I hope you don't turn me off right now. We're gonna talk about something that nobody likes to talk about today. Makes people uncomfortable, people like to deny it, as a matter of fact, is really one of the reasons why more and more people choose not to even believe in God. Because what Jesus is talking about in this passage is God's final judgment. And people don't like to talk about judgment. And yet, if what Jesus said is true, there's not just a Supreme Court, there is the Supreme Court. And it is the court of no appeal. And what Jesus is telling us is, every single person who's ever lived on this planet is gonna give an account to this judge. You're going to go to this courtroom, you can't have a lawyer, you're gonna be by yourself, it's gonna be you and the judge and he's going to render the verdict on your life.

And I'll tell you why this is such a big deal to me. You've ever had this experience? Do you remember the last time you're walking through maybe a parking lot or a parking garage and a car alarm goes off? This happened to me just two days ago. I was in a parking lot, I was walking by and this car alarm goes off. You know what we do now when a car alarm goes off? Don't pay attention to it. Just keep walking. You know why? Because we've heard so many of those alarms go off, we just realize most of the time it's just a false alarm. And so we don't pay any attention to it anymore because they've lost their purpose. What was the purpose of the car alarm? To let you know, I'm being stolen, I'm being broken into, something's wrong, something's happening.

But we've heard it so many times, we don't even pay attention to it anymore. That's exactly what happens in this passage. We hear so little about the judgment of God or we've heard too much in our minds about the judgment of God, we just ignore it. I want you to imagine that what you're reading right now in Matthew 25 it's an alarm. This is God's alarm that's going off. And he says You better not ignore it because here's the good news for all of us or the bad news, we are all in the story. You're in the story, I'm in the story. And it reveals what's coming to us when life is over. And Jesus said, there's three facts we need to face because of the facts that are going to face us.

Here's fact number one, we should envision a spiritual separation. We should envision a spiritual separation. Now, Jesus is getting ready to go to the cross, He's about to die, He's gonna come back from the grave, He's checking out, He's leaving, and just as He came the first time, He says, oh by the way, spoiler alert, I'm coming back the second time. So we begin in Matthew 25:31. Everybody say that word right there. Say it real loud. Not if, when the Son of Man comes in his glory, I am coming, mark it down. If the sun may not rise in the east, it may not set in the west tomorrow but one thing you can bet on, Jesus is coming. When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

Now, there's no room for doubt. Jesus doesn't say I might come back, I could come back, I can come back. He says, I will return. You may not know this, one out of every 20 verses in the New Testament tells us Jesus is coming again. One out of 20. A matter of fact, 2,300 times in the New Testament we're told Jesus is coming back. 23 of the 27 books in the New Testament tells us Jesus is coming back. Okay, here's the question. So when Jesus finally comes back, what's the first order of business? What's the very first thing he's going to do? He tells us. 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. He will the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. He won't lack an audience.

Jesus says, everyone who has ever lived since the beginning of time, every nation and every person of every color, of every race, everyone is gonna be gathered at this place. All humanity, all the nations includes everybody. See, ethnically speaking, there are only two classes of people, you do know this, right? There are really and truly, ethically, you're either a Jew or a Gentile, these are the only two classifications are. But spiritually speaking, there are also only two categories of people; children of the kingdom and children who are not of the kingdom. Children of God and people who are not children of God. And Jesus knows who is who. Jesus knows which is which. And he immediately separates them. He puts one on the right and one group on the left.

You know that word separate, if you think about it, is such a sad word. It's just so sad to separate a mother from her daughter, or a father from a son, or to separate a husband from a wife. I mean, it's one thing to separate people on earth. But just imagine, it's another thing to separate people for eternity, for one group to say to another group, I'll never see you again. I'll never talk to you again. We'll never know each other again. We will never have fellowship again. There'll be no relationship again. And to do that for all eternity, especially when you know that means one group is going to be with God forever and the other group is not. And Jesus says, I want you to picture two groups. Let's call one group sheep and one group goats. Now why did Jesus use that analogy? Well, you don't understand if you live 2,000 years ago. This was a very familiar picture because shepherds back in that day had mixed flocks. Shepherds not only had sheep, they had goats.

ow here's the difference. Whenever the sheep would go to sleep at night, they prefer the open air. So they like to sleep out in a pasture or a pen at night, but goats for are a lot more susceptible to the cold. They didn't like to sleep outside, they had to keep warming, so they needed shelter. Now, the shepherd cared for the goats, we all know that. But the separate had a special relationship to the sheep because what makes the shepherd a shepherd is not goats. What makes the shepherd a shepherd is sheep. He cared for both, being a special love for the sheep. And here's why; you know what the different between a sheep and a goat is? Sheep follow the shepherd, goats, they're stubborn. Goats have a mind of their own. And the shepherd knows very well what a sheep looks like and what a goat looks like. He knows what a sheep acts like, he knows what a goat acts like.

The shepherd knows the ones who accept him and the shepherd knows the one who reject him. And every one of us, listen, if I'm talking to you right now, this moment, you are a sheep or a goat. There's no in between, there's no sitting on the fence, you're either one or the other, you are a sheep or you are a goat. You say, well, what determines whether I'm a sheep or a goat? It's really easy. What's your relationship to the shepherd? You tell me what your relationship to the shepherd is, I can tell you whether you're a sheep or you're goat. So just know there's coming a spiritual separation. But that raises a question. How does Jesus know who's who? How does Jesus know which is which? How does He know, am I a sheep or am I a goat? And how will we know that?

Well, that leads to the second fact we are face. We're going to experience a personal evaluation. We're going to experience a personal evaluation. Let's envision, you got it in your mind, sheep over here, goats over here. But how do you know? Because there is this personal evaluation. And the way Jesus determines who are the sheep and the goats, here's the thing, it comes as a total surprise. It comes as absolute complete shock, both to the sheep and to the goats. Because the sheep at first didn't realize they were sheep and the goats didn't realize they were goats based on what Jesus is about to say.

So listen to what He says, this is so shocking. Then the king will say to those on his right, the sheep, come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance. The kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world for I was hungry, you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, you invited me in. 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. Now, if you'd been there that day, I mean, jaws would have been dropping all over the place because Jesus says the evidence that sheep actually follow the shepherd is real simple, because the sheep loves who the shepherd loves. The sheep cares for who the shepherd cares for. And he lists six actions in this list of thing, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, hospitality to the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and visiting those in prison.

Now, I want you to watch this, watch this, this is do, so, so enlightening. Jesus says, the way I'm gonna evaluate people is not based on their church membership, is not based on their religion, it's not based on their tithing, not based on their Bible memory, it's not even based on their baptism. Now, at this moment, heads are spinning because everything these people had been taught from the time they were little children, they'd been taught this by the Pharisees was, it's all about religion, it's all about keeping the rules, it's all about doing the law, it's all about not doing this and doing this, and doing this and not doing that. And all of that've just goes out the window.

Well, here's the response. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invited you in or needing clothes and clothed you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The king reply, now I listen to this, truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, all that's important, you did for me. He's going to tell you when you did it, keep this in mind. You didn't just do it for them, you did it for me. I'm just kind of on the side here, just kind of skip away from my notes for a second.

I was a young preacher, I used to be young preacher. I am a preacher, I'm just not young preacher anymore but I used to be a young preacher. About 25 years ago, when I was younger, I asked an old grizzled veteran who I highly respected, we were actually driving to Macon, Georgia for a meeting. And I said Jerry, I wanna ask you a question. I said, if you could give one advice to a young pastor, what advice would you give him? And he gave the greatest advice I've ever heard. If you're a pastor out there, you're listening right now, you better hear what I'm about to tell you. He said, James, whatever you do, you better do it for Jesus because if you don't, you're gonna wind up a bitter old man. And I just want say, I don't mean this to brag, I've been the best pastor I know how to be, not a perfect pastor, not the greatest pastor, I've been the best pastor I know how to be. I've tried to be the best preacher I know how to be, but I can stand before you and tell you, I didn't do it for you, I did it for Jesus. Because if you don't do it for Jesus, you gonna wind up a bitter old man. He's, whatever you do, you did it to me.

Jesus said, here's the evidence, you did it for me. So what is the sign of a sheep? How do you know someone who's truly following the shepherd named Jesus? Well, here's what Jesus said, it's not your seminary degree, it's not your baptism certificate. it's not your church attendance or your theological knowledge, no, he said, the sign of the saved is love for the least. Did you hear that? The sign of the same is the love for the least. Now, at this point, I gotta make two things abundantly clear, I don't want you to misunderstand what He's saying. First of all, we all have a responsibility to care for everyone who's poor and hungry and thirsty and naked and needy and in prison. And Jesus, He's being very specific here. Who is He talking about? He's talking about His brothers and His sisters. Just stay with me. He's talking about His followers. He's talking about His disciples. He's talking about Christians.

Here's what He said, you know whether you're a sheep or not, I can tell you really easy: it's how you respond to followers of Jesus. How do you respond to people who bring the gospel, that determines who you are, that determines where you go. Why? Because when you respond to a follower of Jesus, you're not just responding to a follower of Jesus, you're responding to the Jesus in the follower. You're not just doing it for a follower of Jesus, you're doing it for the Jesus in the follower. So He said, look, if you truly love me, you will love my followers and especially the least of my followers, because you know what? Yeah, there are followers of Jesus in prison. And there are followers of Jesus who are poor and hungry, and need clothing and need to be fed and they need shelter.

Now, here's the other thing I want you to understand. You may be tempted to think, wait a minute, so Jesus is saying that we're saved by doing these good deeds. Well, no, that's not what He's saying. We know that because the Bible is very plain, you're not saved by good deeds. You're saved by grace through faith. But here is where the rub comes in. Yes, you are saved by grace through faith but the faith that saves always works. Did you hear that? You're saved by grace through faith but the faith that saves does work. Saving faith never travels alone. Saving faith is always accompanied by works. A matter of fact, you know what the best friend of faith is? Works, they go together, they're joined at the hip. What you say you are, you will show that you are.

So saving faith is accompanied by acts of love, that care for the least, the last, and the lost. Followers of Jesus who have placed their faith in Jesus, you know what that means? They love others who place their faith in Jesus. They've responded to the message of those who have placed their faith in Jesus. They care most about the least of those who have placed their faith in Jesus. And know by the way, it doesn't mean we don't care for all the lost, I mean, all the hungry and all the poor and all the naked, that's not the point. But Jesus said, If you love me, you care especially for those brothers and sisters who are in that position. That's what Paul said. Paul said this, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people. Okay, we know that, right? You care for everybody. If somebody is hurt and bleeding by the side of the road, you don't say, hey, are you a Christian? If they're not you okay, sorry I can't help you. But you care for all of them. But here's what He's saying, but if specially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Now, this applies to all of us. So here's what Jesus said, if you really are not concerned for the poor, for the indigent, for the immigrant, for the outcast, for the refugee, for the prisoners, then you don't really love them. And if you don't love the least, then you don't love the Lord. And if you don't love the Lord, you've not placed your faith in the Lord because faith without the works of love is dead. And if there is no faith, there is no salvation. So I want you understand what Jesus is saying here or you're gonna misunderstand the whole story. What Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with how we get into the kingdom. It is all about how we can tell that the kingdom is in us. Here's how I know the kingdom is in me: I love my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I do care for the poor. I do care for the indigent. I do care for the immigrant. I do care for those in prison. I do care for those who are hungry. I do care for those who are needy.

So here's what Jesus is saying, when it comes to your time and money, what does your calendar and your checkbook show about your concern for the least. Let me make this personal for us. Do you financially support our church's budget? You say, why is that such a big deal? Well, that budget funds, our Cross Pointe ministry that feeds and clothes poor people. When you give money to our budget, you support Abria which is the pregnancy resource center that saves babies lives every single year. When things open up, you can get involved in our prison ministry or our feet on the street ministry that ministers to the homeless downtown, or you can serve in our preschool ministry that takes you to the physically least and as far as are. You can go with me when it opens back up to Phillips State Prison and talk to those prisoners and preach the gospel and share the gospel.

You know, when the check engine light comes on in my car, even though I hate to see it, I know something is malfunctioning, right? That check engine light for all of us who claim to believers remind us, hey, here's the check engine light. Do I really love my brothers and sisters in Christ and especially those who are in need, especially those who are hurting, especially those who are poor and hungry and need help. See, the truth is, if we really love Jesus, we're going to give our attention to the poor, not the rich. To the sick, not the successful. To the powerless, not the powerful. To the have nots, not the haves. Better envision a spiritual separation. You better understand there's gonna be a personal evaluation we're gonna experience that. Then Jesus says this last thing and it really hits home, he says we can expect an eternal destination. We can expect an eternal destination.

You know for every pastor that's a negative, right? Two groups are mentioned, sheep and goats. So Jesus said, when everything is said and done, the spiritual separation and the personal evaluation is going to lead to two different eternal destinations. And again, I'm warning you, people don't like to hear this. Preachers don't wanna preach this, and they rarely do any more, but this is what Jesus said. Then he will say to those own his left, depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, you didn't invite me in. I needed clothes and you didn't clothe me. I was sick and in prison, you didn't look after me. They will also ask, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you? He will reply, truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

We're all headed for one of two destinations. And we're not all going to the same destination. We're not all going to wind up in the same place. One is the place where we will be with God forever and one is a place where we won't. One is called heaven and the other is called hell. And hell is a total separation for the goats. By the way, not just from the sheep, but from God. Because listen to what he says, then he will say to those on his left, depart from me. Forget about the sheep, depart from me. See, this real separation comes in the final destination. We may separate men and women, we may separate rich and poor, wise and foolish, rulers and subjects, haves and have not. But the only division that really matters is between those who go to eternal punishment and those who go to eternal life.

By the way, that word used for punishment is used three other times the New Testament and guess what it means every time, it means punishment. Now, what makes this even more tragic, here's what makes it so tragic. This eternal punishment, it wasn't even prepared for the goats. God didn't even have the goats in mind when He prepared this place. Look what Jesus says in verse 41, you who are cursed into your eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Well, why does God want anybody to go to hell, He doesn't want anybody to go to hell, that's why he sent Jesus. And I can say this with all confidence, there's only one kind of person in hell, the person who wants to go there. Here's the best thing, you're ready for this? If you don't wanna go to hell, you don't have to. You don't have to. No one is gonna make you go. But here's what Jesus said, He said, look, this place is not prepared for people, this was not God's intended destination. This is not God's choice, this is humanity's choice.

Let me be honest with you, this bothers a lot of people. I promise you right now, I can't see you, computers just clicked me off all over the world. Don't want to hear it, heard enough, here's just another hellfire damnation preacher, 'cause it's a turnoff for so many. Because judgment carries negative overtones for a lot of people. Cause let's face it, we're living in a liberal, post liberal, modern, postmodern world. We wanna believe that everybody ought to get a prize. Nobody ever loses, everybody wins. At the end of the day, we're all kind of headed to the same place. But let me just remind you of one thing in the Bible that may shock you. If the Bible is true, God's judgment is not something to be feared is something to be celebrated. God's judgment is something to be longed for, longed to be hoped for. And you say, have you lost your mind? Did the ballgame yesterday really affect you that much? Listen to what the psalmist wrote, listen this, I bet you've never really thought about these words.

The Psalmist said, let the rivers clap their hands. Let the mountains sing together for joy. Let them sing before the Lord, why? Cause he's coming to give gifts, 'cause he's taken us all to Hawaii, because he's given us all a crown on our heart and lemonade for life. No, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the people's with equity. Wow. The Psalmist said, aren't you glad there's a God in heaven that doesn't let anybody get away with anything? Aren't you glad there's a God in heaven that says to Adolf Hitler, you're not gonna get away with it. You may blow your brains out in a bunker, you still have me to reckon with. No Joseph Stalin, you don't get away with it. No, you racist, you don't get away with it. No, you abortionist, you're not gonna get away with it. There is a final judgment that's coming. And God's gonna set the world right once and for all, justice is going to be done.

One of the world's leading New Testament scholars, N. T. Wright said this, "In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place, and the poor and the weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment". Can you say amen to that?

Whether you believe it or not, a good God. What kind of a god lets people get away with things they get away with today? What kind of god lets people go scot free for the unbelievable atrocities that are being done all over the world? They don't and they won't, because not because He's a bad God or a terrible God or a set of missing code, is because He is a good God. And He says justice will prevail. Justice will roll down like muddy waters. So make no mistake, a righteous holy God must hold humans responsible for the life that they live and the consequences of their actions. And what we do or don't do, listen, what we do or don't do matters a lot more than just eating and sleeping and dying.

I've said it to you before, what we do, what we do here, and how you live your life here will determine your eternity forever. And it's all up to you. What you do for God in this life determines how God will judge you in the next life. That's why each week, we tell you, you do not leave our church, you are sent from our church. Why? Because we can affect where others spend eternity, we have that choice. We not only can choose where we're gonna spend eternity, we can choose whether or not we're gonna help others spend eternity where they need to spend eternity.

So let me just close with this, in one of his radio broadcasts C.S. Lewis gave this spoiler alert and he said this, and I mean, who could say it better than C.S. Lewis. Listen to what C.S. Lewis said, "I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when he does. God is going to invade all right. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over. For this time, it will be God without disguise, something so overwhelming, it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. It will be the time when we discover which side we've really chosen, whether we realized it or not".

So thank you, Jesus, for giving us a spoiler alert. Thank you for letting us know what's going to come before it comes. And thank you most of all, that you have given us the choice. You have given us the opportunity and you've given us the ability to decide, am I gonna cast my lots with the goats, I'm not gonna cast my lot with the sheep. I don't know about you, I don't fear death, I don't fear dying, I don't fear the judgment of God and I don't fear the God of judgment 'cause I made my choice, I'm a sheep that follows the shepherd.

Let's pray together. With heads bound, with eyes closed, you're watching right now on that computer, that iPhone and iPad, that TV, you got a choice. Whether you like it or whether you don't, if Jesus is a liar, you're good to go. But if he's not a liar, you got to reckon up to this right now. Right this moment, you're a sheep or a goat, no in between. And what's the difference, it all depends on your relationship to the shepherd. I said to a man just this week, we were talking, I had never met him before. And I asked him, I said, do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? He bowed his head and he said, no, I'm not there yet, I'm working on it. I gave him a best news tract.

And I said, you need to make a decision. We couldn't talk any further, he's leaving, I said, you make a decision today. That's what I'm saying to you. If you're here listening to me in this building, you're watching right now, if you have an ounce of doubt, if you say man, I don't know whether I'm a sheep or a goat, let's get that settled today. Let's establish that relationship with the shepherd today. Right now, right now, say this to the shepherd, say:

Lord Jesus, I want you to be my shepherd. I wanna be one of your sheep. I believe you died for my sins, I believe God raised you from the dead. I believe you're alive right now. I confess I am a sinner, I need a Savior, you're that Savior. So I give you my life and I trust you to save me right now. So here's a sober question that we all need to ask. I had to ask myself again, I'm a pastor. God, I wanna make sure I'm a sheep and not a goat. Lord, I know now, if I love you, I will love the last, I'll love the least and I'll love the lost. And may you know you're set to do that very thing. Father, the name of Jesus, thank you for your word. It's strange to say this, I wanna thank you for your judgment. I wanna thank you that one day justice will be done even as you give out mercy and even as you give out grace. Thank you for the word that you've given us today and use it to motivate us to bring other people into your kingdom. Well, we pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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