We don’t do good works in order to be saved, we do good works because we are saved. Good works indicate that Jesus is alive and active within you, and is conforming you to His character. Understanding that, you need to realize your entire life, and all that is “you,” and all that is available to you, is on loan from God, and is a talent to be invested for His kingdom.

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Download Matthew Part 87

Matthew #87. Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus has been talking about his return, and the importance of being ready. It’s always helpful to remember that the verses and chapter divisions in our modern Bibles were not there originally. Personally, I think Matthew 25:1-13 belong with the words of Jesus that came at the end of chapter 24. It is, in fact, one more admonition to us to be ready for his return. Let us look at it briefly.

The setting is a Jewish wedding. In those days, in much of Israel, weddings were the most important social events, after religious festivals. A large proportion of the population lived in poverty, and even, at times, on the brink of starvation. A wedding was a chance for them to eat their fill of good food. Most people had to work hard from sunrise to sunset, but a wedding was a chance to relax and celebrate. The 10 virgins that Jesus is talking about were part of the wedding procession – roughly equivalent to bridesmaids in the present day (though not exactly the same). This was a rare moment in their lives when they got to dress up, relax and have fun, and eat their fill of good food. It would be bitterly disappointing for such girls to miss out on a wedding where they were bridesmaids.

One of the key parts of weddings in ancient Israel was the procession of the bridegroom. He paraded through town to the place where his bride waited, and then they paraded together, accompanied by the “bridesmaids,” and others, to his home, and to the feast! This procession took place after dark. Anyone who was part of the wedding would be expected to carry lights to add to the joy and festivity of the procession. If someone was out on the streets without a light, they would rightly be considered a stranger, someone who was not part of the wedding.

People in those days did not have watches or clocks, so time was a pretty fluid thing. As the bridegroom progressed through the streets of the town to his bride, he might pause to greet friends and family, or stop off at various houses to receive blessings and gifts from various people. Therefore, no one knew exactly when a given bridegroom would arrive, and when the procession with the bride (and after, the feast) would begin. The bridesmaids waiting to meet them would have to be ready, because no one knew exactly when he would come.

In the parable, some of the bridesmaids were not prepared to wait for very long: they did not have enough oil to keep their lamps burning for a long period of time. Without lights, they would be considered strangers, and not accepted in the wedding party. Because they were not prepared, they had to leave to get more oil for their lamps, and when they got back they found out that they had missed out, the gates were closed and they would not get to participate in the wedding feast. There would be no leisure, no celebration, no joy, no good food. It’s hard to emphasize how deeply disappointed these girls would be.

I want to point out a few things about this parable.

First, it is told for people who think, “I’ll wait until the end of my life is closer,” or “I’ll get right with God someday – just not right now.” You never know when Jesus is coming, and it will be too late to get your spiritual affairs in order once he is here. Jesus is telling us to be prepared, now and always.

Second, in this parable, part of being prepared includes being ready for it to take a long time. The five foolish virgins were ready at first, but they weren’t in it for the long haul. If the Christian life is a race, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes life can feel long and difficult – part of being ready for Jesus is about being able to endure through those times.

Third (and this is my favorite part of this parable), before this, Jesus has been telling us to be prepared in order to avoid the negative consequences. This parable, however, paints his return in a positive light. This is something we won’t want to miss out on. There will be joy, and laughter, and feasting and celebrating. It is like a long awaited vacation. This is something we should be looking forward to, something we will want to be a part of. A wedding, for most of Jesus’ listeners, would have been one of the most fun, satisfying and joyful events that they could look forward to. Heaven should be that for us – only not “one of” the best things to look forward to, but rather “the very best thing” we have to anticipate.

So, up until this point, Jesus has been telling his disciples – and us – to be prepared for him at all times. Starting in 25:15, he begins to tell us how to be prepared. What does it mean to be ready? What does it look like? He starts with another parable, the parable of the talents. I want you to read the parable yourself. It is a little long, and I don’t want to use up the space here. Read Matthew 25:15-30, and then come back and finish reading this message.

Let’s make sure we understand the parable. Our English word “talent,” as in “ability,” can be traced back to this parable of Jesus, since he clearly intended us to understand this is about how we use what God has given us (and not only about money). But at the time Jesus told this story, a “talent” was simply a measurement of money, roughly equal to about 6,000 denarii. Isn’t that helpful? Well maybe, if you know that a single denarius was acceptable pay for one day’s wages for a manual-laborer (see Matthew 20:1-2). In today’s money, if we assume a manual laborer makes $80 per day, one talent is roughly equal to $480,000. If you assume a laborer makes $100 per day, then a talent would be more like $600,000. Another way to calculate it is that one talent represents the total earnings from 16-20 years-worth of manual labor.

To make it simple, it is reasonable to picture it like this (as of 2016 in America): The man with one talent had roughly $500,000; the one with two had $1 Million; and the man with five had about $2.5 Million. In other words, this is a significant amount for investment. Even the one who had the least was dealing with a sum equal to twenty years-worth of earnings. Now, obviously, this parable is not about money. Very few people in any generation are given that sort of money all at once. Jesus was talking to his disciples, and none of them ever had nearly that much money. But the point is this: What God has given you is very valuable. Even the least amount is still worth a very great deal. And he wants us all to use what he has given, for his glory and his purposes.

So what are your “talents”? Your natural abilities are certainly part of what the Master has entrusted to you, to use for his purposes. Maybe it is musical or athletic ability. Perhaps it is the way people look to you for advice or for comfort. It might be your ability to listen, or to talk, or to sing, or dance, or make others laugh, or to be real. If you know how to put people at ease, that is a talent on loan from God. If you know how to appropriately challenge people and encourage them to grow, that is also from God. Your personality, your voice, your face, your body, your intelligence – all these are on loan from God, and are supposed to be used for His purposes. Don’t insult your own body, or any of your talents: to do so is to insult God, who made them, and has a purpose for them.

Some people are given monetary wealth. This too, is on loan from God, and is intended for use and investment in His Kingdom. Your situation in life is also part of what God has given you. Many of my readers were born in the United States of America, and that gives you opportunities and privileges not found in many parts of the world. You may not feel privileged, but you are. Even the poorest Americans have more wealth and opportunity than much of the world. Those opportunities and privileges, like your natural abilities, are “on loan” from God, and he expects us to use them for His purposes. Esther was given this sort of “talent,” and God wanted her to use it. She was made a queen, with a position of influence. When there was trouble for God’s people, Mordecai, her uncle, told her this:

If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” (Esth 4:14, HCSB)

In other words: “The opportunity and privilege you have has been given by God. Use it for Him. If you don’t, God will still deliver his people, but it won’t help you. But perhaps God has given you this privileged position for this very moment in time.” So we too, who are better off in this world, are supposed to use that privilege for God’s purposes.

Our relationships, our connections, are also gifts of God to be used for Him. Can I make it simple? your entire life, and all that is “you,” and all that is available to you, is on loan from God, and is a talent to be invested for His kingdom.

Now, I hope you have a few questions. The big one is this: doesn’t this parable make it sound like we will be welcomed into heaven if we use what God has given us for His glory, and we will not enter in if we don’t? In other words, doesn’t it seem like we are saved, not by God’s grace, but by what we do? It seems to contradict what the Bible says elsewhere:

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I understand why, at first glance, someone might think there is a contradiction here. In order to resolve it, we need to understand the role of “good works” (good things, done in the name of Jesus) in the Christian life. This will be very important when we look at the next parable, also.

I think you should write this down somewhere, because it will help you through so many parts of the Bible: Good works indicate that Jesus is alive and active within you, and is conforming you to His character.

Good works are not absolute proof that you are a Jesus-follower – many non-Christians do all sorts of good works. But if you claim to be a Jesus-follower, and your life shows no evidence of the character of Jesus, there is a problem. You might say that the presence of good works does not necessarily prove anything, but the absence of good works is a strong indication that something is spiritually wrong. Let’s look at the verse from Ephesians again, only this time, I’ll include the part I left off:

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10, HCSB, emphasis mine)

Being saved by grace (not by works) goes hand in hand with walking in the good works that God has already prepared for us to do. Salvation and good works go together. We don’t do good works in order to be saved, we do good works because we are saved.

When we refuse to use what God has given us for God’s purpose, it shows us that there is a problem in our relationship with God. We are telling him that we aren’t interested in what he wants. So the man who refused to invest his talent was rejected, not because he failed to make an investment, but because, by his refusal, he showed that he wanted nothing to do with the Master.

So where does all this leave us today? Are you ready? Are you in this for the long haul? And do you use your life like it belongs to God, and is only on loan from Him? If you don’t, why don’t you? What prevents you?

What is the Lord saying to you today, through the Scripture? Spend some time praying about it, right now.

Lord help us to recognize that all we have belongs to you. Help us to recognize that you have saved us for a purpose. Let us realize that you want to use all you have given us for that purpose. Help us to allow you to do so. Where we have been selfish, and withheld from you, please forgive us, and restore us to a right, healthy relationship with you.

As you continue praying, please also remember this ministry in your prayers. Through this ministry, we are trying to do what the parable speaks about – invest our talents for God’s purposes. Please pray that the investment here is fruitful, that we continue to have all that we need to do his work. Thank you!



salt and light by bernie rosage



Picture by Bernie Rosage


Some Christians act as if Jesus said that we are the “honey-pot” of the world. We think we can just sweeten things up with love. But Jesus used a very different metaphor. Salt is essential to life, but it is also caustic. It has a bite to it sometimes.


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Matthew #13 . Matthew 5:13-16

We have come to what I believe is the “theme statement” of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. The character traits of Jesus-followers are listed in 5:1-12. After this, Jesus goes into some specific details about how those character traits play out in various situations. But in Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus explains the point of it all:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:13-16, HCSB)

We need to be very clear here. Jesus is not speaking to “the world” or “people in general.” He is speaking to his disciples: those who have put their trust in him, surrendered their lives to him.So what exactly does Jesus mean when he tells his disciples that they are salt and light?

Salt. Salt accomplishes essentially two things: it flavors, and it preserves. As Christians, we are to have a flavor that is distinct from the world around us. I remember in High School, most of my friends were not Christians. At the time I felt I had a mission to show them that Christians could be cool, and have a good time – basically I wanted to prove to them that being Christian wasn’t boring. So I went to the same parties as my friends. When they drank, I drank, although I never got drunk, even when they did. What I realize now is that I came very close to losing my saltiness in that period in my life. Certainly, no one became a Christian because of me. I see the church at large in America in the same sort of danger of ceasing to flavor society. Many church-goers have the same primary goals in life as anyone else. They and their children look like everyone else, dress like everyone else, talk like everyone else. What is the main difference between Christians and non-Christians in America? Unfortunately for vast numbers it is only the way they spend one particular hour each week.

The world around us cries “Fit in! Fit in! Fit in! Don’t be weird, conform!” But Jesus calls, “Don’t fit in! Don’t conform! Be different!” Frankly, it becomes very difficult for Him to influence the world through us if we are the same as the world. Flavorless salt is good for nothing. The truth is, there is, and there has to be, a fundamental difference between Christians and non-Christians, between the church and the world. If there isn’t, we are useless, good for nothing.

Salt is also a preservative. It was used in Jesus’ day to preserve meat which would otherwise decay. What this means is that Christians ought have influence in society in such a way that culture’s natural slide into degeneracy and decay is arrested. In plain language, we ought to be so different and flavorful that because of us, society stops becoming so immoral, indecent and wicked.

Helmut Thielicke wrote that some Christians appear to think Jesus said we ought to be the honey pot of the world – and sweeten things up with God’s love. But salt is a harsher agent than sweet. Salt is caustic – it bites, just as the true message of God’s judgment and grace has a bite to it that leaves us in despair of ourselves and hoping in Jesus only. We don’t influence society through sweetness, but through saltiness.

LIGHT. Now, when I first read the part about “light,” I am reminded of something Jesus said in the gospel of John:

Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, HCSB)

So which is it? Is Jesus the light of the world, or are we?

Jesus is the light of the world. But now that he has ascended to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to live inside of us, Jesus is the Light of the world – through us. I don’t mean that we take the place of Jesus, or that we should consider ourselves divine or messianic. But Jesus now uses us to show the world His light. Since Jesus talks about lamps, let’s adapt this to modern times. The light from a lamp doesn’t come from the lampstand, or the lampshade, or even the bulb. The light comes from the electricity that runs through the lampstand, up into and through the bulb. We function as the lampstand, or the lampshade or maybe even the bulb. But the light doesn’t come from us – it originates from Jesus, and shines out through us.

This fits perfectly with the entire sermon on the mount. Jesus wants to show his character to the world through his followers. His character is humble, dependent upon God for everything; willing to honestly address grief, sin and brokenness; willing to wait on God to act. The character of Jesus manifested through us desires real righteousness, real right-relationship with God. It is merciful, and focuses on true purity of heart. It seeks to reconcile others to God, and to each other. It endures persecution and suffering with a clear vision of the eternal joy that is our future, if we remain in Jesus. This is what Jesus wants to shine through us.

If salt flavors and preserves, light dispels darkness. Throughout scripture, light is often used as a symbol of truth. So when Jesus calls us the light of the world, he is also telling us that we are the vehicle by which his truth is to spread. We are to share the truth of God’s Word with the world, to bring light into darkness. In other words, we are also to tell others about Jesus.

Tony Campolo once said, “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” I don’t like that quote at all, because it implies that words are often not necessary – and that is false. Every Christian has a responsibility to not only live as salt (Christian actions and lifestyle) but also as light (speaking verbally about Jesus). I can show you Muslims and Hindus and Jews who live morally upright, kind and loving lives (at least on the outside). But they are not dispelling darkness. The apostle Paul writes:

“How then they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14, emphasis mine).

So we need to speak out the truth of Jesus in order to have influence in the world, in order to be light.

Now, all this is a very tall order. It sounds good in theory. But how can we really show the character of Jesus to the world through our messed-up lives?

Sometimes we feel that while salvation is God’s work for us, following God after we are saved is all our work for God. Actually, that is false. Andrew Murray writes:

“The idea they have of grace is this – that their conversion and pardon are God’s work, but that now, in gratitude to God , it is their work to live as Christians, and follow Jesus. There is always the thought of a work that has to be done and even though they pray for help, still the work is theirs.[1]

Murray goes on to explain that as we surrender to Jesus (not as we work harder) His Holy Spirit has more control in our lives, and thus our lives are more and more conformed to God’s holiness. Elsewhere, Murray also writes:

“Oh that you would learn a lesson from the time of your first coming to the saviour! Remember dear soul, how you then were led, contrary to all that your experience, and your feelings, and even your sober judgment said, to take Jesus at his word, and how you were not disappointed. He did received and pardon you; He did love, and save you – you know it. And if he did this for you when you were an enemy and a stranger, what think you, now that you are His own, will He not much more fulfill his promise?[2]

The apostle Paul writes, in Romans 8:31-32

What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

The point is, if we can trust Jesus to accomplish our salvation, we can surely trust him to accomplish our on-going life of obedience to him as well. We need to realize this: through dying on the cross, rising again and sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus has made it possible for anyone to obey. Now I am not suggesting that anyone can attain perfection in this life. But the power of Jesus’ death on the cross is such that when we fail, forgiveness is available to us, and we can continue as if we never failed to obey Him. It does not matter how many times we fail, nor how often, or in what way. All that matters is that we receive the love and grace and forgiveness God has made available to us, and so continue on in obedience. And as we surrender ourselves more and more to him, obedience comes more easily and more naturally – not from working harder, but from surrendering more.

Having made that point, the only way we need to fear the high standards of the Sermon on the Mount, is if we attempt to attain them without Jesus and his Holy Spirit.

We might summarize all this with four main points:

1) We ought to live lives that are radically different from the society around us. It should be obvious that we are distinct from the worldly cultures we live in.

2) We ought to seek to influence culture so as to preserve the good in society. This means supporting families and good government, seeking to change laws and practices that are unjust and destructive, and speaking out about right and wrong.

3) We must speak out the good news –all people are sinners, who deserve God’s wrath and the very worst that life can dish out. But God so loved the world that he sent his only son to die for us, so that whoever puts their trust in Him can be saved to new life now, and to eternal life after death.

4) We do all this by relying on Jesus more, trusting him more and more to let His character shine through us.

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[1] Abide in Christ. Andrew Murray, Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington, PA, 1968.

[2] Same as above



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If Jesus is really going to live his life through us, it can’t be only on Sunday mornings. It can’t be just when you have your quiet time with God each day. It can’t be only Sunday mornings, quiet times and small group meetings. It can’t be only after work. It can’t be only on weekends or mission trips.

You see, in America especially, we tend to have our own goals and ambitions, and we try to wedge God into our life as one piece of a very full pie. We’d be quite happy to let Jesus have more of us, but we just don’t have the time. Our plates our full. Our time and energy is used up.

I want to challenge you to be honest with yourself for just a moment. What is it all for? What is your time used for? What do you spend your energy on? What is your busyness accomplishing? Jesus said:

“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.” (John 18:36, HCSB)

Yet, we seem to be fighting and struggling to make ourselves and our loved ones a comfortable place in this world. We can’t have both our own agenda, and the agenda of Jesus.

When I graduated from High School, the senior class had an official all night party. To make things more fun (as the organizers said) we were given fake money. We could beg for more, play games for more, or make trades. At the end of the night we could use the fake money to bid in an auction for real things, like a $100 gasoline card or even a motor scooter.

A friend of mine set his heart on the motor scooter. He spent all night working like crazy to get more fake money, so he could bid on the scooter. He hardly saw his friends. He hated card games, but he played endlessly to get more fake money.

At the end of the night he had a nice little pile of fake money. Even so, a few other people pooled their fake money, and outbid everyone else, including my friend. When it was all over, he threw his fake money in the garbage, and walked away with nothing but the memory of a wasted night.

There are several key differences between my senior class party and life as we know it. One of them is that, at the end of it all, you cannot use this world’s money, goods or accomplishments to bid on anything real that lasts for eternity. What we “gain” on earth is worth even less than the fake money at that party was worth. Remember what we learned through this series on living in reverse: “Don’t work for food that perishes!” (John 6:27)

Many of us who are grown ups, and particularly Christians, have started living for our kids. We aren’t living selfishly, we are truly not. We are sacrificing our time and energy and possessions for our children. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?

I want to be compassionate and flexible here, but also bold and honest. Sometime we say we are sacrificing for our children, but we are simply using them as an excuse for why we need to work longer hours or make more money. A lot of kids would be happier with less stuff, fewer opportunities and activities and more time with their parents. Some kids know this consciously. Others don’t know they would be happier that way, because everyone else runs around busy too, and they’ve never known anything different.

Some of what we say we are doing for the sake of our children doesn’t make that much sense in the long run. When my son was nine years old, we got him involved in a local community baseball team. They practiced for two hours every Saturday. They played two evening games a week, each one usually lasting about 90 minutes. By the time we drove back and forth everywhere, we were spending about eight hours a week for a nine year old child to play a game that was he somewhat indifferent about. If we had done that for every child in our household at the same time, we would have spent almost the same amount of time as a full time job, just keeping our children in sports.

99.8% of people will never be professional sport players. The skills we encourage our kids spend countless hours developing are for playing games. I know sports teach things like hard work and teamwork and integrity. But do you honestly think that kids can’t learn those things from you, in your family at home? I guarantee you that as a child, Abraham Lincoln did not play on a school team, nor a traveling team for any sport. I am certain that the apostle Paul didn’t either, nor Jesus himself, nor Martin Luther or Florence Nightingale or any of the people who truly shaped the world in which we live today.

Sometimes sports may be a way to college scholarships, I understand that. I can’t say too much about that, since I have no idea how my kids will pay for college. But I do know this: If Jesus, living his life through them, wants to go to college, he’ll go. He’ll make a way for them. But if I haven’t taken the time to teach them about Jesus, to let them develop an life that comes from within, from His Spirit, then even if they get a fully paid scholarship to Yale, I’ve failed.

I want to say one more thing. It isn’t uncommon for a family to spend ten, twenty or even more hours per week on activities and sports. If that is you, let me ask you, what are teaching your kids, by focusing so much on external activities? Do you spend an equal amount of time teaching them to read the bible and pray and listen to the Lord? Do you teach them how to be content and to draw life from the Lord when there is nothing going on externally?

Sometimes the reason we are so busy is because we are trying to get life out of external things. David Wilcox has a great line in the song Hurricane. He writes: “When hope is gone, she confessed, that when you lay your dream to rest, you can get what’s second best, but it’s hard to get enough.”

When we try to get life externally, we need a lot of external activity, a lot of external things going on. It’s hard to get enough, because it isn’t real life. Our busyness is often a cover up, a way to avoid dealing with the fact that we are missing the internal life. And by our busyness, we often are teaching our children to seek life externally also.


Continue reading “THE WHOLE PIE”