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Good morning. It is good to be looking into the Word of Christ with you. Matthew chapter 13. We’ve come to verse 47 through 50 as we continue our study in Christ’s parables.
Before we read that, just a couple comments. It seems to me that we are wired to sort things, and in this passage we’ll see some sorting going on. I remember my oldest son, when he was a toddler, and he loved to sort things, especially Hot Wheels, and he would line them up in long lines and move them around the living room all in a long line. And then once in a while he would sort sort of the race cars in one line and trucks and tow trucks and things in another line and he would have them all sorted out.
And I’ve noticed that as we get older it doesn’t change much. We still sort cars in our heads. Do we need a sedan? Do we need a truck? Do we need a big van? Or if they’re DeYoungs, a 27-passenger van. Or do we need a 1969 Porsche 911?
Well, in the Garden of Eden, Adam sorted through the animal kingdom. He made distinctions. Jacob sorted livestock. Gideon sorted would-be soldiers. Samuel sorted through Jesse’s sons and picked David.
Also God commands His people to bring the first and the best of the flocks for sacrifice.
Every week I sift through songs, we sift through the produce section at fruit stands and pick the best and the ripest. We choose politicians, whether there’s any choices or not.
Discrimination according to what we think is good or not so good comes naturally to us. Now some discrimination, as you know, especially related to something like skin color, is quite evil. But some is good and necessary to life.
I would contend that this, this choosing, this sorting out, this separating between things is actually written into the very fabric of creation. There are at least two theological points, probably more, that point to this fact.
First, it’s rooted in the, what’s called the aseity of God, that is, He is independent and sufficient in and of Himself. He is apart from His creation. He is different than His creation, that’s all that says.
Secondly, there are actually distinctions. You know this swell. There are distinctions in the godhead and we call them persons. Some beliefs are false while other beliefs are true. Some fruit is evil and some fruit is good. Understandably, at times these sorts of ideas kind of offend our modern sensibilities. We like things to be unified, homogeneous. If you buy a hamburger from this store in this state, you want the thing to taste the same in that state. We like things without distinction sometimes. We don’t really like role differences. We don’t really like gender differences. We like things to have less and less offense, and most of all the god of the day we want science to be uniform and settled.
Of course, you’ve probably noticed already in your mind, we’re fairly schizophrenic. We also want to do away with distinctions while remaining very unique and interesting. It’s a hard thing to balance. Every business in the world proclaims they are the best while at the same time trying to be the most accessible and the least offensive to absolutely everyone. At the very least we could say that perhaps logic has been expelled from society.
Again, distinctions are rooted in the very character and nature of God as three persons, and therefore it’s woven into the fabric of our existence. In fact, word, or language itself, demands it if we are to communicate anything at all.
So, likewise, just as the beginning of time which is in itself an interestingly distinction, but likewise just as the beginning of time began with separation of waters and land or light and dark, so at the end of time there will be a great separation. Ultimately, we have to sort through ideas and ultimately God will conduct a great sorting.
Let’s read Matthew chapter 13, 47 through 50.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Would you draw me in prayer?
Father, we do ask once again as we come to this passage, which is clearly loaded, for Your blessing. Open it to us, teach us, convince and encourage, we pray. In Christ’s name. Amen.
In this passage we have the great gathering, a great ending, and a great sorting. We’re going to look at those three things. The great gathering, this idea of the net or a dragnet, fishermen would lower a net, you can imagine this pretty easily, they lower a net into the sea and then they drag it, either onto the boat or onto the shore with ropes, and so bring the haul of fish in.
Calvin says there are two ways to look at this idea of the net. He says there’s really not new teaching here, there’s nothing novel, especially in comparison with the parables that have come before it. However, there might be a slight difference of intent, he says.
Number one. He says it may be an effort on the part of Christ to remove the offense to weak minds that wish there was more purity in the Church, or who wish there was more purity in the Church. Listen to this: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.” That would include good and bad, we see that. But have you? I mean, I have, I’ve wished for a more pure Church. If we could just get rid of all the sinners, we’d be doing great.
I had a boss, my first boss, and he’s become a good friend over the years, and he used to say, he would joke, that he could put the best band in the world together, the best drummer, the best bass player, singers, keyboardists. The only problem was he would never be able to enjoy the rehearsals because he wouldn’t make the cut.
If we could just have the best missionaries and the best pastors and the best families, we would have a Church that God has not designed. The Church would not be the Church that God has ordained. He’s designed a spiritual kingdom which is full of both the sincere and the hypocrites.
At the very least, that notion, this notion of the net gathering all, should remove the shock of sin when we find it in the church. Now this shouldn’t perhaps induce complacency. In fact, pastors and elders and leaders and teachers and even all members of the church, you know, we are called to protect the peace and the purity of the church, so it’s not that we can just rest on our laurels and be okay with the sin that perhaps crops up. However, it is good to note that if you’re part of a church, this church, because that’s where good people hang out, you’re here for the wrong reasons and over time you’ll be sorely disappointed.
But if you understand that a church is where sinners who know they need Christ hang out, then Christ’s words should reduce some of the shock to our sensibilities.
The second thing Calvin says is this: It should, this statement should, induce a measure of fear and modesty.
Now this has come up before in our study of the parables. But there are several reasons that perhaps people attend church, multiple reasons, I would guess. One of them is you just attend with your parents. Another one is it’s just what you do. You’ve grown up doing it, so it’s just what you do. Or perhaps you truly believe that you are part of a spiritual body. Or perhaps you’re here just learning and wondering and seeking.
But the obvious conclusion is what’s obvious in our text: There are fish of every kind, even right here in this room. And so this compels us to ask what kind of fish am I? Is my assurance based on habit or predestination or because I think Christianity makes nice people, or do I look to Christ for my salvation?
You see, the net has been cast, it is moving, and are you ready to be caught up in that net?
And so Calvin points out that this should bring a measure of fear and modesty, or humility, and we need to explore that.
Finally, there’s one more nuance I would like to add to Calvin’s little list here. As we’ve seen the gathering is taking place and the net is actually fairly indiscriminate. It catches everything in its path. But also the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, usually used interchangeably, the kingdom of heaven gathers from out of all nations, all tribes, all languages, all cultures.
Mike referenced this just a little bit earlier. Daniel chapter 7: And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away. As Mike Kruger pointed out in an earlier week, the kingdom of God is not a location, it’s not a physical city. The kingdom of God is the way God’s reign, His rule, and His power spreads throughout the entire world. The kingdom of heaven spreads wherever God’s rule of peace spreads in the hearts of men.
Of course, many of us are attracted to peace, we’re attracted to hope, but many of us can sort of do without the commandments hell and all that stuff. But our text sort of forces us there today. And so here’s the nuance I would like to add to Calvin’s points. Note that the net includes righteous and unrighteous, but it also include folks of every stripe.
Considering what we just read in Daniel, it’s not difficult to see that there is no kingdom, nationality, or culture that is left out of the path of God’s dragnet. Now no doubt this should, this text, should not be used as kind of a proof text for the bumper sticker “Coexist.” That’s not the point.
And yet, you shouldn’t be surprised if you pull up the net and you got a sucker fish alongside of a bass. And furthermore, it shouldn’t surprise you if in the end the good-looking bass is thrown away and the sucker fish is kept.
On a heart level, this should cause at least three things. First of all, don’t be shocked if you encounter sin. Secondly, make sure you are trusting in Christ. This passage should bring some fear and modesty. Third, consider carefully how we interact with those who are different than we are, those we might be tempted to just stay away from or shun.
I’d like to quite a song. This is from a band called the Lost Dogs. I don’t know how many of you know the Lost Dogs but they’re kind of a, an alt-country rock Christian conglomeration of several different bands together, and I’d like to quote something from them. It’s really kind of a manifesto of the types of sinners that are brought into the kingdom.
It goes like this:
“Politicians, morticians, Philistines and homophobes,
Skinheads, deadheads, tax evaders, street kids,
Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys and dim wits,
Blue collars, white collars, warmongers, peaceniks.
Breathe deep the breath of God.
Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, drop-outs,
Friendless, homeless, penniless, and depressed,
Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens,
Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists.
Breathe deep the breath of God.
Evolutionists, creationists, perverts and slum lords,
Deadbeats, athletes, Protestants, and Catholics,
Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life, misogynists,”
I don’t know how they sing this,
“Monogamists, philanthropists, blacks, and whites.
Breathe deep the breath of God.
Police, obese, lawyers, and government,
Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects,
Atheists, scientists, racists, sadists,
Biographers, photographers, artists, pornographers.
Breathe deep the breath of God.
Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thespians,
Disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers,
Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and juries,
Long-hairs, no-hairs, everybody everywhere
Must breathe deep the breath of God.”
Clearly we have to judge fruit and call each other to righteousness, but are you ready to be uncomfortable and walk alongside with those who might just have a different sin struggle than you?
Are you more discriminate than God?
Do you avoid engaging with certain types of sins and sinners, cultures, colors, theological traditions or styles?
When I went fishing as a kid, and I loved fishing, go with my buddy on a three-wheeler and to back in the woods and my mom and dad had a big pond and I loved fishing, but if I was fishing for a bass I would use a lure. If I was fishing for a bluegill, we would take worms. If I’m fishing for catfish, we would set out a trot line and use stink bait.
Well, that’s a good way to think of perhaps a missionary going to a particular people, focusing on one thing. But God’s dragnet drags so much, whatever is in its path.
Now this doesn’t mean, I’m not saying that all are saved, just that all types are saved from their sin. This is God’s plan for the great ingathering and that might be uncomfortable.
What are we to do? Two thoughts before moving on.
First of all, listen well.
I’m part of a work group here at Christ Covenant where we’re talking about how to promote, how to encourage, us to be able to tell our stories about Jesus, to be able to give our testimony. And one of the things we’ve discussed is that we actually need to learn to listen well. And perhaps here’s why: When you hear somebody’s story, it can sound a bit like a fish tale and sometimes our initial reaction is to correct, critique, condemn even. Perhaps instead we can learn to listen and empathize and walk alongside as we engage and evangelize and establish and equip. Engaging requires good listening. So that’s number one.
Another take away we can take from this is speak well. So listen well, speak well.
Since all types of sinners are being caught up in this net, it behooves us to be ever watchful for the opportunity to talk about Jesus. And especially with those who are in the Church, but also to those who do not understand.
Now you might be tempted to think that the long-hairs and the no-hairs don’t want to hear your story about Jesus, but everybody everywhere needs the breath of God. Do not be more discriminate or choosy than God as He spreads His net, spreads His Church, spreads His kingdom throughout the lands.
The net has been cast. The countdown has begun. Then after the gathering comes the great ending. At some point the bell will toll, the clock will strike midnight.
In our passage we have phrases like “when it was full,” or “at the end of the age,” and it pretty much means what it says, it’s at the end, when the time is right, ripe, or ready, and there are just a few things to say about this time element in this passage.
First of all, notice that God is patient. If you know something of your Scriptures, you know that God is patient. Even after God frees the Israelites from Egypt, they made an idol, they doubted, the complained, they didn’t listen, and Moses reminded God, God you’re, you’re a God slow to anger, and God relented from destroying the whole nation. He was patient with them. Why? Because God’s intent is to gather a great nation, to gather a great people.
Let me ask you. Are you that patient? When somebody sins against you, your spouse, your friend, sibling, a parent? Are you patient with sinners? Or perhaps I should turn the question around and ask, do you hope others are patient with you when you sin against them? So God is patient.
Secondly, God’s purposefulness in taking the long view. God takes a long view and He’s very purposeful in that. He takes time, and a long time, to make Himself known to people. Once again Egypt and Israel is a great example. He waited 400 years to free them. Why? Because He wanted more people to know Him. He’s growing them. When they arrived they were 12 brothers and their kin. When they left, it was several hundred thousand, perhaps even in the millions. God wanted more people to know Him.
Do you want to make God known to your children? Your spouse? Your coworkers? Can you take the long view in that relationship, taking time to help them know God?
He wants more and more to know Him.
However, though we may have the time now, I would be remiss if I did not say that it will not always be. This passage forces us to deal with the great sorting, the great separation. It is coming. Someday the door will close and the judgment will be upon us. As we learned from perhaps the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, we must be ever watchful. Perhaps go read that again. We must be ever prepared for we do not know when the ropes will be pulled and the net will be drug to the shore. Putting it off, putting things off out of forgetfulness and laziness or sleepiness or just contentedness with this world, is foolish and dangerous.
One thing we see about God throughout the Old Testament is that He waits long years and then all of the sudden, in fact it’s called suddenly, judgment comes, waits, and He’s patient and He’s purposeful and He’s spreading His name, and then judgment lands. When the time is full, the separation will begin.
Let’s read this again: Men sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad and so it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.
As I began studying this passage, I have to admit, I was like, hoo, this is a doozy. Somehow I’ve got to go from relaxed Nathan to hellfire and brimstone.
But listen to these verses. This is a great sorting, a great separation, that comes.
Jeremiah 17:10: “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Matthew 25:41 and following: “Then He will say to those on His left, depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.”
But for the one who repents and trusts in Christ’s deeds, we have this charge and promise, from Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
All will be judged according to their deeds, either Christ’s deeds or our own deeds. Which will you trust?
While the net is out, there is time. But then comes the end, and we need to deal with the two groups of people listed in this passage.
We’ll deal with the first, or the bad, first. Let’s go there first.
The bad are thrown away into the fiery furnace. Obviously, this points to the subject of hell. And I don’t have time to cover a full theology of hell and Tom Groelsma already touched on this, but even though we’ve seen it in the wheat and the tares, it’s vital that we don’t skip the import of this passage. So here’s just a few thoughts.
First of all, Jesus taught on hell more than anyone else. We have to pay attention. In fact, R. C. Sproul says that almost all the teaching about hell comes from the lips of Christ. He goes on to say this: There is no biblical concept more grim or terror-invoking than the idea of hell. It is so unpopular with us that few would give credence to it except that it comes to us from the teaching of Christ Himself.
Three quick things about hell. I hold up two fingers. Three quick things about hell.
Number one, hell is real. This has already been stated in this series. Some suggest that a fiery hell is perhaps just a simple metaphorical look at less blessing. Or perhaps they suggest annihilationism, but this is simply an effort to avoid the clear teaching of Christ. It is an eternal flame, it is called, an unquenchable fire.
Some will ask well, will there be a literal fire? Francis Turretin replies, well, the soul can’t be touched by fire, it’s spiritual. It’s not physical, right? But the body can be touched by fire.
John 5:29 points to the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. Turretin suggests that there will be a burning of anguish and regret in the soul that cannot be quenched and a pain to the body that cannot be described.
First of all, hell is real.
Secondly, hell is terrible.
It includes weeping and gnashing of teeth. Some attempt to dismiss this as just frustration by the idea that hell is mere separation from God.
Now I would say that other pastors, and myself, would agree that there is a separation from God, but we would all agree that there’s a qualified separation from God. It’s more than this, even as Tom pointed out just a couple weeks ago.
Let me explain. Mere separation from God, which is so often repeated, gives the sinner actually exactly what they want. They want to get away from God and all His crazy rules. And it also seems to serve to assuage the sting in our own hearts. We don’t grapple with the terribleness of hell very often. It’s disgusting. We, we don’t like it. The concept of hell hurts. However, while separation from God is true in one sense, it’s essentially a truncated view of hell, and a misunderstanding of 2 Thessalonians 1:9, which reads this way: “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.”
However, if you go on and read the following verses, you find that they make it clear that the presence being talked about in that context is the presence of glory and blessing as God comes to be glorified in His saints. It goes on to say that the saints will marvel at the glory of God, and so true, the wicked are separated from the presence of God’s blessing, but they are not separated from the presence of God’s wrath.
There’s at least one theological reason we can point to for this. God is immutable and He will place His wrath on wickedness for all time, for all eternity, so while the saints may marvel, the wicked will look on God in horror. Hell is worse than mere separation from God and you do not want to be, you do not want to be the object of His wrath.
Hell is real, hell is terrible, and thirdly, hell is the punishment of eternal destruction in the presence of God’s wrath.
Matthew 3:12 says this: “The chaff He will burn,” and that’s referencing the Father and the Spirit, “The chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”
In Isaiah we find this: “For a burning place has long been prepared, indeed, for the King it is made ready. It’s pyre made deep and wide with fire and wood in abundance. The breath of the Lord like a stream of sulfur kindles it.”
Matthew Henry puts it this way: “Hell is a furnace of fire kindled by the wrath of God and kept burning by the bundles of tares cast into it who will be ever in the consuming but never consumed. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, comfortless sorrow, and incurable indignation at God, themselves, and one another, endless torture of damned souls. Let us therefore,” he says, “knowing these terrors of the Lord, be persuaded not to do iniquity.”
My mother wrote a poem. I’ll read a portion of it:
“The heart perverse and base and bold,
A life distraught and dark and cold,
By choice a slave to death.
Remorseless soul, you loved this life.
It’s synthetic liberty
and mocked and scored the killed
the one who came to set you free.
Rebellious sinner, wretched, dead,
Cry in anguish, awe, and dread,
Nor rocks nor mountains here,
The one returned you would have fled,
Depart from me, ye cursed, He said.
Into eternal fear, repent, repent.”
Perhaps it’s time to stop accepting the nice, the proper, and the pleasing portions of Christianity while ignoring the reality of hell, because it’s the reality of hell that makes amazing grace so amazing. Jesus Christ bears all that wrath in your stead. He bears your shame. He bears your sin. He takes the punishment that you were supposed to get. He stands in your stead. Are you ready to say, Jesus, I want less of me and more of You?
If so, then you will be placed in His arms, sorted into good containers, set into a place of safety and rest and eternal peace.
And so now I can say the same, and the opposite, of heaven that I just said of hell. Jesus taught heaven is real. Jesus taught heaven is amazing. And Jesus taught that the reward of heaven is living in the springs of eternal life in the presence of the blessings of God.
All types of sinners from all over the globe, from all times, if they have repented, will be placed in good containers for safekeeping, saved for eternity.
Now don’t think genie and a lamp. You’re not being placed into a container like that. Think streets of gold and clear mountain trout streams.
I have biblical evidence for clear mountain trout streams. Ezekiel 49, and wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live and there will be very many fish, for this water goes there that the waters of the sea may become fresh so everything will live where the river goes, and this river is flowing from the temple of God. The hope of heaven is being gathered into Christ’s fold and resting by the streams of living water. Christ hooks you by the net with His shepherd’s staff, pulls you into the barnyard, pulls you into his fence, placed you under His cover, and this cover is His righteousness which nothing can penetrate. Not one of His children will be stolen. Not one lost.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and on His finished work and you will be ever joyful, what a day of rejoicing that will be as you are gathered into the Lord’s arms as He bears you home, not to eternal destruction, but to eternal life where tears and pain are gone forevermore. Be ever watchful, ever listening for the blessed phrase, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” Listen for the loud voice that cries “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them as their God.” Or “behold, I am making all things new. It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.”
In conclusion, number one, be ever watchful to listen and speak well. We’ve already covered that. But thereby be effective in the great ingathering. Ever watchful to listen and speak well.
Number two, be patient and take the long view with all types of sinners. We all need that. And we pray for a haul of good fish that will rival the numbers of the sands on the seashores and the stars in the sky.
Number three, hell is real. Fear and modesty should be something that comes from this passage. Lean upon Christ because the great sorting is coming.
Number four, heaven is real. So lean upon Christ and find the treasure of the hope of heaven.
And finally, be ever watchful. The dragnet is moving. The day is actually closer today than it was yesterday. And it will come like a thief in the night.
Would you pray with me?
O Father, work in our hearts that we might listen and speak and be patient and longsuffering to all those You place around us so that many more might come to know You. Father, I do not ask that you would remove the dread of hell unless it be for the joy of living in the righteousness of Christ and the hope of heaven. And finally Father, as the net moves toward the shower, enthrall our hearts with the hope of heaven and cause us to always be prepared, ever looking, ever watchful, for the day of rejoicing. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.