Online Text Sermon - The Regeneration of All Things, Matthew ch.19 vv.27-30
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Regeneration of All Things|
|Text||Matthew ch.19 vv.27-30 |
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"Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my namesake, shall receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." (Matthew 19 27-30)
Here we see the Lord Jesus Christ teaching his disciples. The disciples were being trained for the ministry, and our Lord took three years to train these men for the work of the ministry. Normally, unless a person is an exceptional genius, they need to spend some years preparing for the ministry, and our Lord here was teaching them. Christ taught them continually, they were with him, they heard his sermons, they saw his miracles, and so you could say that the whole of their experience was one of being trained for the work of the Gospel. Now in this particular situation, Christ had very important lessons to bring to the disciples, lessons which are very difficult to us to learn even now in our generation. It concerns that rich young ruler who had come to Christ, and shown great courtesy and reverence towards our Lord, and offered to follow him whethersoever he went. He was a most promising young man, seeking what we would call today membership of the church, and our Lord did something very strange. Instead of preaching the Gospel to him, he preached the Law, you know the commandments, you must not do this and that or the other. That is a tremendously important lesson. There are occasions when we must confront would be disciples with the moral Law and the claims of the moral Law. Not of course because anyone can be saved by keeping the Commandments, but for another reason, and the reason is this, that people do not know the depths of the deceitfulness within their own heart until they are confronted with the claims of God's law. This young man announced glibly that he had kept all these commandments from his youth and up. He had been decent and respectable, law-abiding, God-fearing, church attending, and our Lord, you remember, said to him "Very well, sell all that you've got and give it to the poor and come and follow me." That was too severe a test, he couldn't stand up to that, and our Lord then said that it's very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God - easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, and the disciples, you saw, were amazed.
The problem with the young man was that he did not know himself. He thought he was pious, he thought he was ready to give up all for Christ. But when the test came, he had an idol, and his idol was his money. Until a person can put all their idols under their feet and stamp upon them they are not fit to be called Christ's disciples. Our Lord uses that situation to teach the twelve disciples important lessons, which we do well indeed to learn again today. Now, my friends, I make this general point in passing, Christ teaches us still, lessons we need to know from day-to-day, not only by the Bible, and preaching, and books, but also by situations. We often find ourselves as Christians in situations in which Christ is teaching us things. We may not recognise that that is the case at first, but we must have our eyes open to see that Christ is teaching us many lessons in the experiences of life through which we have to go. We learn much about ourselves, we learn much about human nature, and these lessons we can only learn as he teaches them to us.
All right then, my concern is with what he says especially in verse 28. He says "That ye which have followed me in the regeneration, when the son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel"(text). My first point of interest here is, what does our Lord mean by this word, regeneration, in the regeneration? You could translate it new birth or rebirth. What is our Lord referring to when he uses this most interesting, and, perhaps in this context, rather unusual word 'in the regeneration, when the son of Man, meaning himself, shall sit upon the throne of his glory'? That's the point I'm beginning with here today, and I say to you that in the Bible there are two regenerations. The first one is the regeneration of the soul. The classic passage dealing with this, you will know, is in John's Gospel, chapter three, where Christ is interviewing Nicodemus, and says to him over and over again in verses three and five and seven, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see (or enter) the kingdom of God." So there you have the teaching which our Lord gives concerning the regeneration of the soul. We are a ruined race. I hope everybody here understands that. I hope you know that we all sinners, all have come short of the glory of God, we were born in sin, and regeneration is the only method whereby men can be put right. It can't be done by psychiatrists with their chairs, and their studies, and their advice. It can't be done by education. You can't make people into little Christian gentleman by putting them through the public school system. You can't do it by increasing the police force, or by giving people and more and more and more holidays, it cannot be done. Nothing that men can do can put us right. It has to be done by the new birth, regeneration of the soul, and Paul refers to it in Titus chapter two, where he speaks about the regeneration and washing of the spirit, and the way in which the heart of man can be changed by the power of God. It requires infinite power to put the human heart into a state of grace.
However, you understand that's not the theme here. This is the second biblical reference to regeneration that I mentioned earlier. This regeneration has to do with the universe as a whole, the heavens and the earth and all the works which are in the universe; the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the galaxies, the entire material universe, visible to the eye of man and some of it not visible. The entire universe, says Christ here, will one day be the regenerated. Now clearly he is using the word in a somewhat different, though closely related, sense to the regeneration of the human soul. Sin has not only ruined man but sin has ruined the world. When Adam disobeyed God he brought a curse upon not only on himself and his health but upon the very material world. The earth was now cursed for his sake, thorns and thistles and briars. He will bring forth poisonous creatures, fierce and ferocious wild beasts now emerged. There are even spots on the sun, scientists tell us, and there are earthquakes, and tidal waves, and dreadful incurable diseases, AIDS and SARS and cancers. All of these things have come into the world. God has put a vanity in all things, God has injected something into the material universe which he has made, which means that there is a curse in it, and there is a judgement upon it.
Now, what our Lord is referring to then here, under this word regeneration, in this place, is the removal of the curse and the termination of the judgement. There is going to be a great event in the future, says Christ, in which this curse and judgement and wrath of God upon the universe itself, will be taken away. And so Christ very definitely and very clearly is here making a reference to the 'great last things.' We often say that there are four great last things, which we could never know, where it not that God in his rich grace has told us of them in his word. The four great last things are these, I am telling nothing but what you will know very well, but we must just look at it in connection with this text. The first of these is the return of Christ. When the trumpet sounds then Christ will return in his glory, he will be visible upon the throne and upon the clouds of heaven, all his angels will be gathered with him, and he will be visible to every eye. Every eye shall see him. That is the first of these four great last things. And the second is, the resurrection - both of the just and of the unjust - one resurrection, all the dead shall rise again some to glory and some to shame. That is the second of these great last things. And then the third one will be the judgement, Christ will summon all men and all devils to the judgement seat, where the books will be opened, and every Man shall receive according to the way he has lived, in thought, and behaved, and acted, and spoken, in this life. Even every idle word will come into the reckoning, and into the accounting. The way that we have behaved ourselves here below. All of that will be the basis of the judgement. What we have believed and what we have not believed, what we have obeyed from God and what we disobeyed. All of that will be the matter of our judgement. And everyone will be there, there will be no absentees. It's easy for people to absent themselves from church, and as it were to hide away from God, but they will not be given the option of absenting themselves from that great meeting with God. and that is the third of these four last things.
But then it is the fourth of these that we are concerned with here in this text. When the judgement is over and the righteous are summoned to their everlasting reward. When the wicked are cast into outer darkness with the devil and his angels to suffer, most tragically, eternal punishment. Then there will be a transformation of the very material universe itself. And we are told about this in various passages of the Word of God. Let me briefly mention them to you. In Acts chapter three and verse twenty-one the apostle Peter put it like this, "The time of the restitution of all things." That's Acts three, twenty-one. He's preaching to a Jewish audience. He is telling them to repent that their sins may be blotted out and the times of refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will send Jesus Christ, whom the heavens must receive until the time of restitution of all things. This is the same point again in other words. The 'apokatastasis' of the universe is the term there used. The entire world, the universe, every atom within it, is going to be brought under a special process by God, and it is going to be put right. Of course it needs that, because the world is defiled under the inhabitants thereof. Much innocent blood has defiled and disfigured the world. Sin and filth covers the face of the earth, and it is not a fit place for godly and the holy people to dwell in. Increasingly it is disfigured by sin.
Peter quotes Isaiah, and he makes it clear in his second letter what this promise is, this renewal or restitution. It will consist of the universe being taken through fire. It will be purged through fire. There are two views about the way in this will be done. The Lutherans have always tended to take the view that the universe will be put through the fire of judgement in order to destroy it, that it might be abolished and that thereafter God will create out of nothing a new universe again. That's one view concerning this restitution and the new heavens and new earth which will emerge after the fire. The reformed, Calvinistic church has tended to take a different view. They have tended to take the view that the fire will not abolish the universe, not destroy it in the sense of bringing it to anihilation. Rather that it will remove by a cleansing process. all the filth and all the dirt and all the dross of sin which has, for so many centuries, made it defiled. What will happen is, it will become a purged universe, a purified universe - new heavens and new earth. No man can profess to know the last word about new heavens and new earth.
I give you my own view about what is meant here. As we live at the present time in the world, it is like a three-storey house. There is the heaven above, and hell beneath, and we are in the middle, in an intermediate state of between heaven and hell. Some will go to heaven and alas, many will go to hell. After the judgement is over, there is no place for the intermediate position of earth as now we have it. There will be no need for a place where people are still on probation, or on test, or on trial, because the trial after the judgement will be over. So, instead of being a three-storey house, God, it seems to me, will restructure into making a two storey house. Heaven above and hell beneath, so that earth as we now have it, and heaven will coalesce into one and the three will become two. Because as I say, and I think you'll see the point I am making, this world is a place where people are on trial and on test. It doesn't yet appear where people shall be, whether in heaven or in hell but they are, as it were, on trial, on probation as we say. After the judgement day, let me repeat myself, there is no need for a probation. So the three places will become two places, heaven above, hell beneath, but the earth will join with heaven. It will be merged into heaven. New heavens and new earth, one dwelling place for the righteous, and there of course they will be with God. They will see God face-to-face and they will be made perfectly happy and perfectly joyful.
The apostle John sees this in his vision. In Revelation 21 verse one he says, "I saw new heavens and a new earth", and he speaks about it in the last two chapters of the book of Revelation. The glory of it, no need of the sun anymore, because God himself gives all the light. No need of them moon, no temple there, because the Lord God is the the glory of it. There is no need for any more buildings like the one that most people who go to church to worship have now. All things will be wonderfully different and gloriously much better than they are in this life. Paul also refers to this, in a passage which is somewhat mysterious, a passage which is well worth studying, verses 14-21 of Romans 8. He speaks about the fact that the heavens and earth, as they are now, are groaning, longing for the manifestation of the sons of God. He says, "the creature itself, also, shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God". By the word, creature, as we have it in the Authorised version, the King James version, he undoubtedly refers to the universe, to the whole material world. And it is exactly the same doctrine our Lord gives voice to here in Matthew 19 and in this verse 28. He calls it, regeneration. So, we are clear now what the doctrine here is. God is going to transform the entire world, the whole universe. He's going to renew it, he's going to beautify it, he's going to make a fit dwelling place for the Lord's people to inhabit eternally. There is the point of theology, there is the great doctrine concerning the regeneration of heaven and earth.
Now, my friends I have to say to you, this is a great comfort to Christians for many many reasons. One of which is, that it makes us patient, it makes the Christian patient. Nobody at all can make this fallen world perfect. We respect politicians and have a high regard for them. It is not a Christian practice to scoff at politicians, whatever their colour. If they are honest, sincere men and women trying to do the work of putting evil right in society, we respect them. Whether they be politicians of the right or of the left or of the centre, whether Nationalists or the Green Party, or Independent, or whatever they are, we respect them for what they are trying to do and they have an enormous task; putting crime right, and all the evils of society. But as Christians whilst we respect and honour those in high places of government who are doing their honest best to put things right, we know from the start that they will never succeed. They cannot succeed. The task which men in politics have is quite beyond the powers of one man or one government, or all the powers of government of the world. It cannot be done. Sin is an insoluble problem to man, and all the laws, and all the police forces, and all the prisons, and all the execution chambers you could devise, will not make man good, nor the world good of themselves. God, however, blessed be his name, has told us that he will put the world right in the end. The Christian believes this, and he waits patiently, and he prays for this. Our Lord taught us to pray for it, "hallowed be thy name, they KINGDOM come, thy WILL be done on earth as it is done in heaven." That's the consummation of all our hopes. As I say, we respect politicians of the right and of the left, but we don't expect too much from them. We pray for them, we pray for their good, we pray for the peace of our land, be our land Britain or America or Iraq or wherever it is, but we don't expect them to do miracles that are quite beyond them. Only God will put the world right, and he WILL in the end of history. The whole world will be put right, God has promised it here. The regeneration of heaven and earth, and, oh my friends, in the meantime we live with much sorrow because of the judgement on this world. Did you hear of the little girl in North Africa, buried under six floors of cement and rubble. The sniffer dogs could hear her crying out and could not find her. The last I heard anyway, they couldn't find her, but they heard her crying out. They got her name, she was quite able to tell her name, but she was buried under mountains of cement, and they are working night and day to get her. Whether they will, I just have no idea but isn't that pathetic, isn't that touching? Imagine our own precious boys and girls in that situation. Well, I say it's a sad world but God will put it right. In the end there shall be no such things, no more earthquakes, no more volcanoes, no more tidal waves, no more ferocious beasts. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountains saith the Lord, for the earth shall be full of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." That is the great final hope of the Christian and of the church. The regeneration of heaven and of earth. And the Son of man,meaning Christ will then sit, he says in verse 28, "sit in the throne of his glory".
Those of you who are not Christians, you see what you are going to miss. What have you got which can compare with that? Shouting perhaps for your favourite football team, well, we don't say that that's necessarily a sin, but what does that compare with seeing the King of glory sitting in his throne? What have worldly people got to compare with that? Being with him and near him, seeing his blessed face and talking to him face to face in the regenerated heavens and earth. As I say, Christian, you may be going through a tough time, but your tough times will come to an end. Men may misrepresent you, and speak against you and be unjust to you, unfair to you, cruel to you, but be of good cheer, Christian, your troubles will one day come to an end. The regenerated universe is being prepared for YOU, Christians! And those who like you all over the world and all through history have been looking forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of those concomitant blessings which is inevitably going to take place, because Christ has died and risen from the dead, and he has fulfilled all the Father's will. So every promise of Scripture is certified, guaranteed, solid, pure gold. Now we move on, we have a little time and I want to speak about some of the practical aspects that come from this.
We notice here, Christ speaks about the great rewards, which God's grace will give to men then. And I find this in my text at verse 28, "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones,judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (text). He is talking there to Peter and to the disciples. Peter says to him, "Lord, we have forsaken everything, what will we have therefore?" Now,it is possible that there was a certain amount of pride and a certain amount of spiritual immaturity in Peter's question. I'm so immature myself and so full of pride, I'm not in any position to judge that great man, but, we have to say that maybe there was a little weakness in the way Peter put this. They saw the rich young ruler walking away, back to his riches, turning his back upon Christ, who is the fulness of the Godhead, bodily. What a choice! What a foolish choice! And Peter says, "Lord we have left everything and followed thee, what shall we have therefore?" Is there any reward to following thee, he means. You see how our Lord answers that point, "yes, Peter, have no fear, you which have followed me in the regeneration of the universe, you too will sit with me, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." He is, therefore, clearly talking about rewards. Now dear friends let us talk for a moment about about the subject of the rewards of the Christian, and the first thing to be said about them is, that they are rewards of grace. That is to say, they are not things that, strictly speaking, anybody merits. It's not a commercial arrangement, it's not as though, the more I do for God, the more I'll get from him, in this purely mathematical sense. Because, many people are thinking that they they are doing much for God, when really they are serving themselves and their own belly, and they are not really serving God at all; but the rewards come of grace.
We must consider what is meant by thse rewards. Our Lord is telling us that the Christian will, in the end of history, get a great volume of blessing from God. Every true believer who has served his master in this life, with pain and suffering very often, and with loss of many kinds, he will have a compensation. He will have his losses made up. God will be no man's debtor in the end. No man at the end of history will turn to God and say, "but I suffered more in the way of trouble than I have received compensation for." NO! NO! every believer will be so filled with blessings, so enriched by God in the great day of the regeneration that he will have more than enough to satisfy his soul. And these comforts, of course, will be, not upon earth but in heaven. They will be the rewards of glory. They will be eternal rewards, and they will be given to Christians because God appreciates all that believers have done for him here.
My dear friends, there's something very practical for us to look at here. We should live our lives in the light of what our Lord says. We should make it our daily concern to be well pleasing to Christ in all that we do because the rewards of glory will vary. Some will have more and some will have less. You find this alluded to in verse 30. You see that? Many of the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Now that is what we call an oxymoron, that is to say it seems to be a contradiction. It is an apparent contradiction, and the word for that is an oxymoron, something which appears to be impossible, self-contradicting. But our Lord is using these words deliberately so that there very strangeness will stick in our memories. The meaning is clear. Christ is saying that when the rewards of glory are given, some Christians will receive much more than others, and it's impossible for us to know in this life who will have the more or who will have the less. We are not in a fit condition to know that. Those who appear to the eyes of men to be most likely to be high will be low in some cases, and those who are low in our estimation will be higher. Putting this into very simple language which a child can follow, we might mean this; we are not to suppose that all the popes and cardinals and archbishops and dignitaries and patriarchs, are going to be right in the very top and the widows and orphans are going to be at the bottom. Well, many people might think that, because these are great dignitaries, wear wonderful hats and very bright and ornate clothing and their names are everywhere respected.They are not only reverend but very reverend and exceedingly reverend and more than reverend. They are venerable, and holinesses and all of that. So surely, you say, these are going to be right at the very top and the rest of us somewhere right at the very bottom. Not necessarily, says Christ. There will be many surprises in the Great Day. That is inherently what our Lord is saying, that probably we are right to say that those at the top are likely to be widows and humble men and women and young people who were quite unnoticed. Their names are never in newspapers, certainly never with compliments at any rate. They were the bottom of the pile of men's estimation, but they will be highest in the kingdom of God because they have loved Christ most and been most true and faithful to him. That's what our Lord is meaning here, and he says that these rewards will be the rewards of his grace.
Now, friends, Christ encourages us therefore, to lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven, not upon earth. This is also part of the message. The parable of the pounds, again makes it clear that rewards in glory will vary.You remember the man with ten pounds in the parable in Luke. He said, "Lord, here are your pounds and they have gained ten other pounds." He had used them profitably, the talents which he had received were great but he had used his talents to the glory of God and so Christ made him ruler over ten cities. And then the next man had five pounds and "Lord" he said "I have gained five other pounds," and the Lord said,well done and then I will make you ruler over five cities. And then there was one with the one pound, and he had buried it, you remember, and he was selfish. He hadn't used it to the glory of God and he was rebuked and the pound was taken from him and given to the one that had the ten pounds. So, the teaching is very clear, there will be rewards in heaven. Some will be higher and some not so high. All will be satisfied. The picture we need here is of vessels of greater and smaller size. Let me say that we have a large jar and then we have a smaller jar. Now if you fill them both with water, they are both full. The big jar is full and the little jar is full but no-one would imagine that the little jar holds as much as the big jar. They are both full up to the top of their capacity, but one has greatly more than the other. So, no doubt it will be in heaven. Those who are highest will be full and their fullness will exceed the fullness of those who are not so high. All will be full, all will be perfectly happy, all will be satisfied to the uttermost. All will be richly and abundantly blessed and compensated for their losses, but some will be higher than others. That is why we should honour and respect one another. Because in this life, of course, we are in a situation in which there are different levels of estimation. People make an awful lot of ministers, sometimes too much of them, and it may be very probable, I think it probably is most likely, that in the kingdom of glory some ministers will not at all be as high as some of the humble people of God who have served him quietly in this world. Therefore we should love and respect and honour one another. It is the spirit of heaven to do so, and to show the utmost kindness to those who are the Lord's true people. Whether they be much gifted or little gifted, to show them love and kindness in every way we can.
Christ says that the great reward to the apostles will be, that they will sit on these twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. We may not be able to understand that fully, but it seems to me that this is the reward for the apostles, that they would have this very special nearness to Christ, and we rejoice to think that they have it. But there is also a reward to all true Christians, and you see this at verse 29."Everyone" he says "every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my namesake," (text). What will they have? A hundred fold! In this life, he means, AND they will inherit everlasting life. What a comfort that is! There are rewards for this life, and there are greater rewards for the life to come, and it is for those who have put Christ first. I have to put it to your consciences, my very dear friends - are you all putting Christ first? For this is the truth of being a real Christian, the real Christian puts Christ first. Now, that's painful because if you put Christ first you are going to lose certain things. The rich young ruler couldn't put Christ first because he could see very well if he was to put Christ first he would lose all his money. You can't be a Christian without losing something in this world. You lose fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and wives and husbands and lands in all sorts of ways. You lose your reputation, believe me, when you put Christ first. There's no end of things they will tell newspaper reporters, BBC people, because it is part of being one of those who puts Christ first. You must expect it. It is the way it has always been. Look at the way Peter and the other apostles were treated. What were they doing to them? They threw them into prison as soon as they could. They tried to put them to death as soon as they could. What did they do to the reformers? What did they do to the Puritans and the Covenanters and all the Christians that ever lived? They wanted to silence them and that's what you are going to lose, you see, if you are going to gain this reward. So, my very dear friends, be comforted if you are a Christian. Nothing done here below for Christ's sake will be in vain. Your labour is not in vain.
That gives me just a moment to say, as I come to my conclusion. Every Christian must reckon with the price of true discipleship. If a person claims to be a Christian and yet they never ever lost anything, then they are very suspect. I am afraid that's the way many professing Christians are in this modern generation. They never knew what it was to suffer the loss of anything, but is that real Christianity? Is that really discipleship to Christ, or is it merely what might have happened to the rich young ruler. You can imagine some evangelists and teachers today, if the rich young ruler had been coming along and asked them the question, what must I do to inherit eternal life? They wouldn't have given him Christ's reply at all. They would have said to him, well just come and follow us right now. Never mind if you have money in the bank, that's very useful, we can use that later on, but just follow us right now! They would have made this man a perfect hypocrite. Before a man is a Christian, his heart is broken to repentance. Before a man is a true Christian he is brought to an end of all his love of the things of this life. Husbands and wives, and children and lands, and bank balances and everything. We have to learn to live with people's bad opinion of us, and if we are not prepared to be so and do so we are none of Christ's people. But I mustn't finish on a sad note, let me finish on a glad note. Oh, how happy all true Christians will be in the end!
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