This meditation/devotion is part of our ongoing 2015-16 through the Bible series…
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ ~ Matthew 25:34-40
After teaching about the end of the age in Matthew 24, Jesus gave three different illustrations about his return in Matthew 25. The last of these presents a picture of judgment: the King gathers all peoples before him, puts his sheep on his right and the goats on his left, and says to his sheep, “Come, you who are blessed…” The sheep, righteous in their being, inherit a kingdom and life eternal. The goats, unrighteous, are left outside the kingdom and receive eternal condemnation.
Now a few words of theological note: when you consider the story presented in the fullness of Scripture, we must be careful not to ascribe meaning to Jesus’ words that isn’t there. Jesus was not teaching that good works save (contra Ephesians 2:8-9); nor was he teaching that only his people can do good to others (contra Matthew 7:11); nor that we have a righteousness in ourselves apart from Christ (contra Romans 3:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Rather, the consistent witness of Scripture: you cannot truly experience the love and grace of God and be left unchanged. Being loved by God produces a love for God and a love for others. God’s love propels us outward (Romans 12 is a great example of this).
As Jesus, his word, and his Holy Spirit more fully shape within us a heart of other-focused love, we find that our attitude towards others changes. So much so that we see serving them as serving Christ.
This idea of Jesus identifying with his people is certainly not foreign to the Bible. Besides Paul’s teachings about the church being Jesus’ body and Jesus himself being the head, in Acts 9 when we read about Paul’s (Saul’s) conversion to a follower of Jesus, the Lord appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” It was the church, Jesus’ people, that Paul persecuted at the time. Yet Jesus essentially said, “What you do to them, you do to me.”
And Jesus said the same thing here in Matthew 25. If you give that thirsty person a drink, you’re giving me a drink. If you visit my brothers and sisters in prison, you’re visiting me. If you clothe the naked, you’re clothing me.
We are to live as if what we are doing to others we are doing to Jesus. Would you cuss out Jesus, the Lord of life? Then why cuss out other people? Would you try to manipulate the God who created you? Then why manipulate others? Would you ignore him if you knew you stood face to face with the Savior-King? Then why ignore the hurting you walk by on the street?
And before we protest that Jesus spoke this way just about his church and his brothers and sisters; let’s remember also that the Bible contains plenty of commands to help the poor no matter their background or belief; and to be kind towards, pray for, and do good to even our enemies; and let’s remember that as Genesis 1 and 9 teach every single person exists created in the image of God. Therefore, they are due dignity and our respect (as Peter even says in 1 Peter 2:17)
When we look around at others, let us look around with new eyes, and let us remember to treat them as we would (should) treat Christ.