November 26, 2014
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36)
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
In this lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, Ezekiel delivers the dual message of God’s judgment and salvation. God warns that he will condemn the irresponsible “fat and strong” shepherd-kings of Israel (v. 16). Because the shepherd-kings neglected their duties, the weak sheep-people of Israel were scattered into exile in Babylon (vv. 12-13). God will also judge the sheep-people themselves, promising to feed with justice the corrupt “fat sheep” people who have mistreated their fellow “lean sheep” people (vv. 20-22).
The counterpoint to God’s judgment of Israel is God’s message of salvation. God promises that He will engage in a search-and-rescue mission. As the good shepherd of Israel, God will seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak (v. 16). He will gather the people from exile, feed them with good pasture and make them lie down in good grazing land (vv. 13-14). God will re-establish his flock in Israel, and He will be their God (v. 24).
Why should the exiles believe Ezekiel’s message of promise?
As in Psalm 23, this passage from Ezekiel uses the imagery of God as shepherd and the people as his flock. What has been your experience of God’s deliverance when you felt distressed, sorrowful or forsaken?
In Psalm 100, the psalmist marries the image of God as king (“serve the Lord,” “come before his presence”) with the image of God as shepherd (“we are … the sheep of his pasture”) (vv. 1, 2). God is recognized as sovereign over creation (“all you lands”) and over Israel (“he himself has made us,” “we are his people”) (vv. 1, 2).
What response does God as shepherd-king deserve? Because he has created us, we belong to him (v. 2). We are to offer our whole selves to God in service. Our proper response to God’s goodness, mercy and faithfulness is worship – joyful praise and thanksgiving (v. 3). We are to “enter his gates,” “go into his courts,” and “call upon his Name” (v. 3). We are to enjoy His presence in our lives.
How do you open yourself to God’s presence?
During worship, do you glorify and enjoy God? If not, why not?
This pericope, or passage, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians may be divided into three sections.
Verses 15 and 16 are a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the report Paul received about the Ephesians’ faith in the Lord Jesus and about their putting love into practice.
Verses 17 through 19 are Paul’s intercessory prayer on behalf of the Ephesians. Paul names God as “the Father of Glory,” which refers to God’s power. Paul asks God to give the Ephesians wisdom and insight into God’s saving act through Jesus Christ. Paul affirms that God’s power is working in those who believe.
In verses 20 through 23, Paul declares that Christ’s resurrection and glorification is evidence of God’s power at work in Christ. The exalted Christ is depicted in royal terms. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (v. 21). The name of Christ is “above every name that is named” (v. 21). The Kingdom of God has been inaugurated – God has put all things under Christ’s authority. The pericope draws to an ecclesial conclusion. Not only was God’s power at work in Christ’s resurrection and glorification, but God’s power is still at work in Christ through his body, the church (vv. 22-23).
Is your faith cerebral assent to a creed or a whole-hearted trust in God that motivates how you live your life?
Have you observed God’s power at work in Christ through the church? Give specific examples.
This passage is the end of Jesus’ eschatological discourse. The apocalyptic images reflect Christ’s kingship and his roles as judge and shepherd.
Jesus, referring to himself as the Son of Man, relates that when he comes in glory with his angels, he will be enthroned as king (v. 31). All human beings will be gathered before him (v. 32). Exercising his royal authority, Christ the King will separate the people, “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (v. 32). Both the “sheep” and the “goats” will be surprised by the King’s judgment (vv. 37, 44). Neither group sees themselves as the King sees them.
Christ the King invites the “sheep” or the “righteous” to inherit the Kingdom of God that was prepared for them from the foundation of the world (v. 34). The righteous will enjoy eternal life (v. 46). He calls them, “blessed by my Father” (v. 34). On the other hand, the “goats” or the “accursed” will be condemned to eternal punishment (vv. 32-33, 46).
What distinguishes the blessed from the accursed? As described in the Beatitudes, the blessed act with unselfish, loving kindness toward needy people. The righteous welcome strangers, give clothing to the needy, visit the sick and imprisoned without knowing that they are ministering to Christ (vv. 35-36), while the accursed selfishly ignore those in need (vv. 42-43).
Do the apocalyptic images of Christ as King and judge disturb you? If so, why?
Does this parable contradict the doctrine of justification by faith and not by works?