The Outer Darkness (Matthew 8:11-12)
Topic: One Mission: Until I Come Passage: Matthew 8:11–8:12
I. A Greeting Card Faith
Here's the exact wording of a bereavement or sympathy card I picked up not too long ago. The cover was fairly generic, something like, “With our sympathies”. Inside it said,
“Hoping that it brings you comfort to remember that your loved one is now beyond hurt, beyond worry, in a place of perfect peace.”
To be clear, this was not an explicitly religious card in the sense that it mentioned God or included a Bible verse somewhere. It did not. It was not produced by an overtly Christian publisher. But clearly, this card was making an overtly religious or spiritual statement. It was an attempt to provide comfort to a grieving individual or individuals by reassuring the recipient with a declaration derived from... faith.
Now, I have no problem with 'faith declarations'. I use them all the time. My problem is with the basis for this belief.... the belief that your “your loved one is now beyond hurt, beyond worry, in a place of perfect peace.” Undoubtedly, that's what we believe people want to hear in a time of loss, and for the most part, that's probably true; most people do want to believe this. But all of us know wanting something to be true doesn't make it true. The card itself simply did not provide any justification for this belief.
This morning, sacred Scripture is calling us to believe in something about death and destiny that most people do not want to hear, including us at times. Turn if you would to Matthew 8.
II. The Passage: “In That Place” (8:11-12)
Listen to the words of Jesus in verses 11 and 12 of chapter 8. This passage, of course, is from Our Bible Reading Plan from last week. This is what Jesus tells those around him...
“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,  while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
These two verses are obviously part of a larger context, or we might say 'contexts'; that is, not only the immediate context, but also the book of Matthew, the other Gospels, the NT, as well as the OT. So let's look together at those contexts as we consider three key ideas presented in verses 11 and 12. Those ideas are the banquet, the sons, and the darkness. Let's see how better understanding these concepts can help us better understand the passage as a whole, and its ultimate significance.
So let's begin by asking, “What does God's word tell us about...”
1. The Banquet (v. 11)
That's what Jesus is describing in verse 11, right? This is not only a feast with OT servants of God like “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (the patriarchs!), but better still, it's a feast “in the kingdom of heaven” (that is, when the kingdom is fully realized). Now, Jesus himself will go on to speak in parables about another banquet, a wedding feast, in both chapters 22 and 25 of this Gospel. But I believe all of this imagery is based on an amazing passage from the prophet Isaiah. 700 years before the time of Christ, this is what the prophet declared...
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.  It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (25:6–9)
Wonderfully, all of this imagery (the banquet (or wedding feast), the defeat of death, the wiping away of all tears) is also found in the closing chapters of Revelation.
Why describe this blessed future with the image of feast? Because the feast or banquet is the perfect image to communicate the eternal fellowship, nourishment, and joy that God, by his grace, offers to every single one of us. But I also want us to consider another concept here...
2. The Sons (v. 12a)
You may have noticed the contrast presented in our main verses between the “many” who are coming from “east and west” and “the sons of the kingdom” mentioned in verse 12. Who are these “sons of the kingdom”? The phrase can refer to disciples, but I believe Jesus identifies this group as “Israel” in v. 10 of chapter 8. You see, the context here is about astounding faith, but specifically (and scandalously), the astounding faith of a Gentile. Look with me at vs. 5-13:
When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him,  “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”  And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”  But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.  I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,  while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
I love the fact that Jesus is not concerned about political correctness in terms of this foreign agent of an occupying power. To Jesus, he is simply a man in need, speaking for a man in need.
For Jesus, it isn't the man's ethnicity or rank or political loyalties that distinguish him. It is his faith. He trusts that Jesus simply has to “say the word”, and the servant will be healed. Wow! May each of us be distinguished in this same way.
But look at how Jesus also uses this opportunity, with so many Hebrew onlookers present, to compare this Gentile faith with the all-too-common faith-less-ness of so many Jews. And this faithlessness was best exemplified in so many of their leaders. Earlier in this same Gospel, John the Baptizer pointed out this same faithlessness [or we might say, misplaced faith or trust]...
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (3:7-8)
Instead of trusting in God's promises and God's Promised One, so many of these leaders (and so many of those led) were trusting in their religious routines and pedigree (after all, they were “sons of the kingdom”, weren't they?). You see, this contrast between Jews and Gentiles is present in many places throughout Matthew. For example, in 11:22-24 Jesus told the faithless in Capernaum, it would be “more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon” and “for the land of Sodom” than for you. How could he say that? Because these pagan cities would have repented if Jesus had been at work in their midst. Jesus makes the same point in the next chapter (12:41-42), using the “men of Nineveh” who “repented at the preaching of Jonah” and the Queen of Sheba as his Gentile examples. This note of condemnation leads to a final point...
3. The Darkness (v. 12b)
That theme of judgment is unmistakable in our main passage, isn't it. While this Gentile centurion had demonstrated remarkable faith in Christ, sadly, there had also been a remarkable amount of hard-heartedness toward Christ among the Jews. What will be the ultimate result of such unbelief? Verse 12, “...the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Carefully consider that imagery: far outside the illuminated banquet hall of faith-filled celebration there is a deep darkness where exactly the opposite is taking place: “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth”; the first, an expression of grief, the second (in light of verses like Psalm 112:10 and Acts 7:54) an expression of anger.
In terms of judgment, darkness would have been a familiar image to Jesus' listeners. The prophets often spoken about darkness and “the day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31). And Jesus will talk again about this “outer darkness” in 25:30, and in the parable of the wedding feast, in 22:13.
But he also demonstrates throughout Matthew's Gospel that this imagery of darkness is just one way of describing God's ultimate judgment against the faithless. This is clear from the way “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is also connected in chapter 13 with the image of a “fiery furnace”. Fire, in fact, is the more common image of judgment in Matthew. John the Baptist spoke about an “unquenchable fire” of judgment in 3:12, Jesus spoke about the “hell (or Gehenna) of fire” in 5:22, and about the fate of the faithless in “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” in 25:41; which he goes on to describe as an “eternal punishment” (25:46).
Brothers and sisters, friends, this was and is the warning of Jesus Christ: when it comes to your spiritual condition, misplaced trust leads only to eternal exclusion (2x). So many of Jesus' Jewish listeners placed their trust in their own religious accomplishments or ancestry. Some even claimed to follow Jesus, but on their own terms, not his. And so what is the result of pushing away Jesus in this life? Not surprisingly, it is an eternity away from Jesus. That's what the “outer darkness” signifies. Yes, that image does convey the sense of eternal confusion and blindness and disorientation.
But taken with the context, it inescapably paints a picture of awful exclusion from fellowship, nourishment, and joy in the presence of God. It's no wonder then that the Apostle Paul would later describe the fate of the faithless in these words: They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might... (II Thess. 1:9) That is the “outer darkness”.
III. Darkness and Light
So I want you to stop and think about why is this concept so important for us today? Let me suggest two reasons:
First, because the imagery here describes a very real and truly awful fate, we need to be honest about the destiny of those in our circles. There are popular caricatures of hell in our society, even in our churches, caricatures that are easily rejectable by so many. But a right understanding of the imagery used in the Bible to describe eternal punishment, combined with a right understanding of God's holiness and justice, and the absolute sinfulness of sin, doesn't lead to a softening of this difficult reality. In fact, we recognize it as something far worse than an eternity of seared flesh. As we've seen this morning, it is an eternity of grief and anger in a place of ultimate exclusion. That's not godly grief and anger at ourselves because we didn't do God's will. It is more likely grief and anger because our will has been frustrated; because we believe we deserve better.
Yes, people do want to believe their “loved one is now beyond hurt, beyond worry, in a place of perfect peace.” But apart from the One who actually rose from the dead, as a matter of history, there is no basis for such a belief. Instead, this same historical figure, Jesus, calls us to believe, yes, “in a place of perfect peace”, but also in the reality of a destiny about which frankly most people do not want to hear. Will you pray for those around you in light of this fate, the fate of all who trust in something or someone other than Jesus?
Second, this concept of the “outer darkness” is also important for us because it is intended to sober us about our religious confidence. Jesus was confronting those who trusted in themselves to the degree that they imagined that they would have a place of honor next to the patriarchs around that table in the kingdom. Jesus forcefully, but lovingly, shattered that false confidence. Instead he pointed them to himself, to faith like that of this Roman centurion. We too will be deceiving ourselves if our confidence about inclusion is ultimately grounded in a religious experience, our religious resume, or our biblical knowledge, or our godly relationships.
Our hope (and the hope to which we point) in the face of this hard news about the outer darkness is Christ's Good News about fellowship in the light. The One who spoke here about that future “table” spoke these words at another table: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14–16) That, brothers and sisters, friends, is the Messiah's banquet, and as Jesus would go on to explain, that feast would only be possible because of his broken body and shed blood. And so, whenever we receive the bread and wine of Christ's table, we are reminding each other of the cross that was AND the feast that will be.
It shouldn't be surprising then that 27:45 speaks about “darkness over all the land “ when Christ hung on the cross. It was a reminder of the judgment he bore for us, that we might walk in the light with him. Let our confidence be in him and him alone, that we might say with Isaiah's table guests, “This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
May 22, 2022The Most Important Spiritual Gift (I Corinthians 12:4-7)
May 15, 2022Sexual Morality 101 (I Corinthians 5-7)
May 8, 2022Will Christians Be Judged? (I Corinthians 3:10-15)