It has been wisely said: comparisons are unhealthy because we compare our insides with their outsides. We judge their behavior, but our intentions. We excuse our sins and failures, because we know what we “meant to do.” But we refuse others the benefit we grant ourselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was deeply insightful when he observed, “Whoever regards a man with contempt will never be able to make anything out of him. Nothing for which we feel contempt in others is completely lacking in us.”
So we should share the good news of God’s love with as many as we can, and leave the results to the Spirit. You and I cannot convict a single person of a single sin. We cannot change a single life, or save a single soul. Only the Spirit can transform the human heart. Sow the seed, and leave the harvest with God.
Be ready when the harvest comes
All those who are used by the enemy will be thrown “into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 42). The darnel was used in this way in Jesus’ day as fuel. The spiritual darnel will face the same fate: “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21.8). Jesus called this eternal destination the lake where “the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9.48) and “everlasting fire” (Matthew 25.41; Luke 16.24).
Here there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Five other times Jesus used this phrase to describe the eternal destiny of the damned. Some will not be prepared for the “wedding” (the return of Christ): “the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth'” (Matthew 22.13).
Some will trust their religious background but do not know Christ personally: “The subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8.12).
Some will live in sin, refusing to prepare for the return of the Lord: “Suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24.49-51).
Others will refuse to give their lives to Christ and use their opportunities for him: “Take the talent from him [the man who buried it] and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25.28-30).
And still others will trust in their good works as their salvation: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last” (Luke 13.24-30).
So be prepared for the harvest to come. Be ready for Jesus to return today by committing your life personally to him as Lord. Do not trust your religious background or achievements to save you. Confess your sins and use your opportunities for the glory of God. If the Lord Jesus were to return before you finished reading this lesson, would you be ready to see him? If not, put these words aside and turn your heart to him. Submit to him as Lord. Draw a spiritual circle around yourself and pray until everything inside that circle is right with your Father. And live each day ready for it to be your last.
With this promise: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v. 43). “Shine” translates a Greek phrase which suggests the sun emerging from behind a cloud (Rienecker 41; Bruce 203). The angel of the Lord assured Daniel, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12.3).
The apostle John explained further: “Dear friends, now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3.2-3). One day we will shine with the radiance which reflects the glory of the Lord. And that will be glory indeed (cf. Malachi 4.1-2).
One of my favorite stories is the true account of a missionary couple returning to America after a lifetime spent on a foreign field. It so happened that they booked passage on the ship which also brought President Theodore Roosevelt and his entourage home from an overseas safari. For the entire journey, the passengers paid homage to the president; not a soul noticed the faithful missionaries. But they comforted each other: “We’re not home yet.”