[41] The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. [42] They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [43] Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Matthew 13:41-43

As we approach Christmas, it is time in my house for a little sorting. I suspect that, if my children are on Father Christmas’ good list, they might receive some presents – perhaps some new toys and books. Since we have limited space in our house, the time has come, therefore, to sort through all the toys and books that we have already. Some we will keep, and some we will get rid of. This won’t be easy since my son in particular gets quite attached to his things, and there will probably be tears as books and toys that he loves are sent away to charity shops, or, if they’re not good enough to be given away, thrown in the bin.

Today’s passage is part of a longer sequence of Jesus’ teaching which includes the Parable of the Weeds. It is well worth taking the time to read that today if you get a chance. You can find it in Matthew 13:24-40.

The section we’re looking at is Jesus’ explanation of this parable. It makes for challenging reading! It explains that on the day of judgement, the Son of Man (that is, Jesus) will send his angels out to assist with the judgement of all of humanity. Jesus says that the angels “will weed out of [Jesus’] kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” What happens to these people? The angels will “throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This is a pretty horrifying prospect. Let’s break it down a bit.

Firstly, who are the people who will endure this horrible punishment? 

Anyone who causes sin. This category no doubt includes anyone who leads people astray and encourages them to engage in acts which displease and dishonour God. We need to be mindful of these acts. We need to ensure that we do not fall into this category. Is there anything in our behaviour or in our speech that might have a negative impact on the Christian life of another person? Do we do anything, consciously or unconsciously, that adversely affects the faith of another person? It is people such as these who will find themselves thrown into the blazing furnace on the day of judgement.

Another group of people who will endure this horrible punishment are those who do evil. Those who, perhaps led astray by others, perhaps of their own volition, are tempted to engage in acts which displease and dishonour God, whose lives fall short of the standards expected by God. The concerning thing here is that ALL of us act in this way, every day. We ALL fall into this category. We ALL deserve the punishment Jesus outlines here. The good news that, if we repent of our sin and place our trust in Christ, the punishment that should have been ours to endure has already been taken for us – by Jesus on the cross. Since the punishment has been borne, it is more incumbent on us than ever that we strive to live lives that DO please and honour God, out of respect for the one who paid the ultimate price for our sin.

Secondly, what is the punishment meted out to those who cause sin and do evil? It’s pretty bleak!
Jesus says that the angels will throw these people “into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It’s one thing to be thrown in a blazing furnace but – contrary to what you might expect – this isn’t the end. It’s not a case of being thrown into a fire and that being the final end. Jesus says that once in the furnace there will be weeping – enormous sorrow at having failed to follow Christ – and gnashing of teeth – anger at having chosen to follow a path that diverged from Christ’s expectation. The picture here is of an eternal, never ending punishment.

There is something positive amongst all these rather depressing teaching! 

Jesus concludes by making a statement and giving an appeal.

He states, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Those who do chose to follow Jesus, rather than enduring an eternity of flames, will find themselves in God’s eternal kingdom, where they will shine like the sun. They will reflect the goodness of God and there will be no sin to darken their lives and souls. They will mirror God’s goodness – just as was intended when God created humanity. 
We can’t achieve this goodness on our own, however, because no matter how hard we try, we consistently fall short of God’s expectations. This is why we need to listen carefully to the final appeal that Jesus makes in this passage.

What is that final appeal? “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” If we want to find ourselves amongst the shining righteous rather than the burning evil, we must listen to Jesus. Listen to all he teaches. Reflect on his words. Try to live out his teaching in our lives. Strive to emulate him in how we live. And ultimately, recognise him and embrace him as our saviour, whose death and resurrection alone makes it possible for us to cross from the category of those destined to endure the flames of eternity to the kingdom of our father.

The rewards are great, but the punishment harsh!

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