Trials & Tribulation: Choices
TRIALS & TRIBULATION: CHOICES
MATTHEW 24:42-25:33; 1 THESSALONIANS 5:9
INTRO: About the most difficult thing that any of us has to do, on a regular basis in life, is to make decisions. And some of those decisions can be more, or less, difficult, sometimes even depending on the day. Sometimes, it’s all we can do to decide which size coffee and what we want in it. At other times, we can quite easily make decisions that might be life-altering.
However, without question, one of the greatest abilities that separates us from all the rest of God’s creatures is our ability to weigh factors, to recognize different alternatives, and then to make a decision and to implement an action plan toward the successful accomplishment of that decision. As we look back in our lives, we’ve made decisions about where to be educated and what program to pursue. We’ve made decisions about where to seek, or to accept, employment. We’ve made decisions about whom to marry, where to live, whether to buy or rent our homes, whether to lease or purchase a vehicle, what colors to paint various rooms in our homes, or to decorate them with other than paint, what priorities to place on the use of the funds available in our families, how to spend vacation time- the decisions have been many that bring us to who and what we are here today.
Many of these decisions have been difficult decisions- that difficulty may not show right now, but at the time they were made, they were tough. Some decisions can affect us for the rest of our life for good or for bad. Ultimately one choice that we all need to make will determine our destiny for all of eternity.
I. FROM THE BEGINNING, PEOPLE HAVE HAD TO MAKE DECISIONS. Adam and Eve had to make a decision- a choice- to obey or disobey God, and we know the choice they made, and can recognize rather clearly something of the repercussions that have flowed to us from that initial choice of serving self rather than God.
A. As God worked with ancient Israel, many times He called on them to make a choice. One most notable time was as they were about to enter the PromisedLand. Deut. 30:15-20
B. From this, we can learn several notable lessons about choices and decisions. We learn that there are preferred choices to be made - that all choices are not necessarily equal. We learn that the one who gives the choices can have one that he feels is the best to be chosen. However, we, also, learnt hat the one offering choices can freely offer the opportunity to someone to make a less wise choice. We learn, too, that there ARE effects that will flow from the choice that is made, and sometimes the effects can be incredibly great or unbelievably devastating. Not all decisions carry such weight. Whether you choose the lamb or the steak from the menu at the restaurant is not likely going to be as potentially devastating or beneficial as whether you choose to submit to God or not!
C. Throughout the Wisdom Books of the Bible, there is the call to choose and to make good choices.
1. Psa. 25:2 “O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.” When we choose God, God will instruct us in the way that we have chosen. One choice leads to some positive and very great benefits. Once we choose God, He roars into action to bless us.
2. Prov. 1:28-29 “Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD.” These verses talk about the cause and effect relationship between choices or decisions that are made.
a. God doesn’t see all decisions as equally good. This is what we’re being ‘fed’ in our pluralistic society. The idea is basically that all decisions are basically the same in their level of ‘goodness’ and that we have to consider, heavily, ‘what is right for you’.
b. Scripture does not back this kind of idea, but instructs us in choosing a way of thinking that is godly. We can feel out-of-step with society, and that’s the way it ought to be. John wrote not to love the things of the world. There should be a difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, and we ought not to feel badly because that is so. We haveChristians, today, who are trying to justify bad choices in moral issues. All lifestyles are not equally acceptable, equally loving, and equally beneficial to a society. That’s just the way it is and Christians have to stand up, with back-bone, and accept that, rather than trying to simply blend in and not be noticed in the society. We are, after all, the salt and the light of the world.
II. SO, CHOOSING IS CENTRAL TO HUMANITY! This is an important activity of our everyday lives. When you make one choice, it ends the potential of other choices in that particular area. Whenever you say ‘yes’ to something, you are saying ‘no’ to other possible choices.
A. Often there is only once choice that can be made and acted on. There are certain things in life done only one way. You can choose to button a shirt from the top or from the bottom, but, in the end, there’s only one way for the shirt to be properly buttoned; with each button in the appropriate matching button-hole!
B. Do you know what the most important choice is that you and I have to make? This is a decision that has only one right answer. It’s ‘being ready’. Amos told the Israelites, “…prepare to meet thy God…”
III. ACCORDING TO JESUS, BEING READY IS A ONE CHOICE PRINCIPLE. According to Jesus, start wrong and the rest of your life will be askew.Being ready for Jesus’ return is a one-way truth! Get this right and the rest will fall into place. Miss it and get ready for many problems!
A. How can I say that this is so? Because Jesus told us so. Jesus told us this in his last recorded sermon. In fact, Jesus made preparedness the theme of this sermon. Does this surprise you? Think about this. He had only hours left to live and He could have preached on anything; love or the family or the importance of the church which are all important ideas. But Jesus didn’t. He preached on what many consider, today, to be an old-fashioned idea. He preached on being ready for the kingdom of heaven and staying out of hell.
B. This is his message when he tells of the wise and foolish servants: Matt.24:44 -51 The wise one was ready for the return of the master but the foolish one was not.
C. This is his message when he tells about the ten bridesmaids in Matt.25:1-13 the wise ones were ready when the groom came and the foolish ones were at the corner store looking for more oil.
D. This is his message when he tells of the three servants and the talents. Matt. 25:14-18 Two servants put the money to work and made more money for the master. The third hid his in a hole in the ground. The first two were ready and rewarded when the master returned. The third was unprepared and punished.Their choices were not equally good! Be ye ready!
IV. THIS IS THE THEME OF JESUS’ LAST SERMON.
A. Matt. 24:42 He doesn’t tell us when the day of the Lord will be, but he described what the day would be like. It’s a day no one will miss. Every person who has ever lived will be present at that final gathering. Every heart that has ever beat. Every mouth that has ever spoken. On that day you will be surrounded by a sea of people. Rich, poor, famous, unknown, kings, bums, brilliant, and slow of mind. All will be present. And all will be looking in one direction. All will be looking at him. Every human being.
B. Matt. 25:31 At that time, you won’t look at anyone else. You won’t be looking to see what others are wearing. You won’t be whispering about new jewelry or making comments about who is present. At this, the greatest gathering in history, you will have eyes for only one- the Son of Man. He’ll bet here wrapped in splendor, shot through with radiance, imploded with light and magnetic in power.
C. Jesus describes this day with certainty. He leaves no room for doubt.He doesn’t say he may return, or might return, but that he WILL return. In fact, 1/20th of your NT speaks about his return. There are over 300 references to his Second Coming. Twenty-three of the twenty-seven NT books speak of it.And they speak of it with confidence. Matt. 24:44; Acts. 1.11; Heb. 9:28; 1Thess. 5:2
V. HIS RETURN IS CERTAIN. On His return, He’ll do some dividing: Matt. 25:32, 33
A. That word ‘separate’ is a sad word. To separate a mother from a daughter, a father from a son, a husband from a wife; to separate people on earth is sorrowful. But to think of its being done for eternity is horrible, especially when one group is destined for the heavenly kingdom and the other group is going to hell.
B. We don’t like to talk about hell, do we? In intellectual circles the topic of hell is regarded as primitive and foolish. It’s not logical. “A lovingGod wouldn’t send people to hell.” So, we dismiss it. But to dismiss it is to dismiss a core teaching of Jesus. The doctrine of hell is not one developed byPaul, Peter, or John. Jesus, himself, taught it. And to dismiss it is to dismiss much more. It is to dismiss the presence of a loving God and the privilege of a free choice.
C. We are free either to love God or not. He invites us to love him. He urges us to love him. He came that we might love him. But, in the end, the choice is yours and mine. To take that choice from each of us, for him to force us to love him, would be less than love.
D. God explains the benefits, outlines the promises, and articulates very clearly the consequences. And then, in the end, he leaves the choice to us.
1. Hell was not prepared for people. Did you know that?
2. Matt. 25:41!! “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” For a person to go to hell, then, is for a person to go against God’s intended destiny.
3. 1 Thes. 5:9 “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Hell is man’s choice, notGod’s choice!
E. Because this is true, we must understand that, as one author put it,“Hell is the chosen place of the person who loves self more than God, who loves sin more than his Savior, who loves this world more than God’s world. Judgment is that moment when God looks at the rebellious and says, ‘Your choice will be honored.’”
F. If someone rejects the idea of good, reward, and the heavenly kingdom on one hand, and evil, punishment, and hell on the other, and says there is no hell, that leaves huge holes in any understanding of a just God. To say there is no hell is to say God condones the rebellious, unrepentant heart. To say there is no hell is to portray God with eyes blind to the hunger and evil int he world. To say there is no hell is to say that God doesn’t care that people are beaten and massacred, that he doesn’t care that women are raped or families wrecked. To say there is no hell is to say God has no justice, no sense of right and wrong, and eventually to say God has no love. Because true love hates what is evil. Hell is the ultimate expression of a just Creator.
CONCLUSION: All those parables that Jesus told that we looked at - the parable of the wise and loyal servant, the wise and foolish bridesmaids, and the loyal and wicked servants- all point to the same conclusion: “Everyone must die once and be judged.” Eternity is to be taken seriously. A judgment is coming.
So, our task on earth is really one! It is to choose our eternal home. You and I can afford many wrong choices in life.You can choose the wrong career and survive, the wrong city and survive, the wrong house and survive. You can even choose the wrong mate and survive. But there is one choice that must be made correctly and that is your eternal destiny.
If you look at Jesus’ ministry, you’ll notice that his first and last sermons have the same message. In his first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls you and me to choose between the rock and the sand, the wide gate and the narrow gate, the wide road and the narrow road, the big crowd and the small crowd, the certainty of hell and the joy of the heavenly kingdom. In his last sermon he calls us to do the same. He calls us to be ready.
Indeed, we might add another Beatitude to those he that he gave; it’s implied, but not stated in that first sermon:Blessed are those… who make the right choice.
During one of his expeditions to the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton left some of his men on Elephant Island with the intent of returning for them and carrying them back to England. But he was delayed. By the time he could go back for them the sea had frozen and he had no access to the island. Three times he tried to reach them but was prevented by the ice. Finally, on his fourth try, he broke through and found a narrow channel.
Much to his surprise, he found the crewmen waiting for him, supplies packed and ready to board. They were soon on their way back to England. He asked them how they knew to be ready for him.They told him they didn’t know when he would return, but they were sure he would. So ever morning, the leader rolled up his bag, and packed his gear and told the crew to do the same saying, “Get your things ready, boys. The boss may come today.” The crew leader did his crew a favor by keeping them prepared.
Jesus has done us a service by urging us to do the same: Be ready. It’s one of those choices to get right. Make that choice properly and live that choice and everything else will follow. Make a wrong choice, or alter your choice, and you’ll fumble your way through life.