At the beginning of the Matthew 25, Jesus told the foolish virgins that he did not know them. Do we ever recognize Jesus in the downtrodden and destitute around us? Do the poor and marginalized know us or do we avoid them?
Today, I want to encourage us to recognize Jesus in the needy. I want Jesus to know us, because we have visited him.
Read the text Judging the Nations (Matthew 25:31-46). Discuss the gospel that evangelicals miss, what some call the social gospel, the problem of poverty, loving God in our neighbor, how characteristics of sheep and goats fit the discussion, how God will judge the nations, what is a living faith and seeing Jesus in the poor.
An acquaintance of mine was involved in church relief in Florida after a destructive hurricane. He noticed how some evangelical churches also had large crews to repair their church buildings. Once they had repaired those buildings they packed up and left. My friend and his team stayed on to look after the needs of people. This is a part of the Gospel that evangelicals often miss. It is described in Matthew 25:31-46. Repairing church buildings while people outside are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothing, in need of hospitality, sick, and in need of a visit is a woeful example of our Christian calling. Is it time for some of us to repent? Is it time to get out of our holy places and live the Gospel on our streets by clothing and feeding Jesus Christ in the needy?
Evangelicals often criticize the idea of a social gospel as an excuse for liberalism. But that is not completely true. Social responsibility is a part of the whole package of the Gospel. Probably one of the best places to go to understand that is Matthew 25:31-46. This important passage deepens Jesus’ descriptions of being a light in Matthew 5:13-16 where he described it as good works, and Matthew 25:1-13 where he described the need to have oil to light our lamps. Good works certainly entail pious deeds such as prayer. However, good works also involve deeds of charity such as feeding and clothing the poor. This side of good works is what some term the social gospel. When a social gospel is spurned as liberal it becomes an excuse for not obeying Jesus Christ in social responsibility.
- Problem, Cause, Solution
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus described ongoing problems in our society such as poverty and sickness. What are some of the causes? Poverty is caused by overpopulation, inadequate distribution methods, rising costs, inadequate education, unemployment and under-employment, environmental degradation, individual responsibilities, medical costs, sickness, greed, the cost and devastation of war, natural disasters, industrial changes, recessions, discrimination, pregnancy out of wedlock, disability, crime and unjust incarceration, immigrant status, gang presence, etc. How do we as Christians address those problems? Do we address the short-term need of feeding the poor, or do we address the political and economic issues that cause poverty? Some Christians address the direct need by activity in a soup kitchen. Others address the underlying causes by involvement in politics. Both address the problem, but Jesus only demanded that we at least start by giving the hungry food.
- Loving God in our
At advent we tend to focus on Jesus’ first and second comings. What we often miss is his resurrected presence with us today. Where can we find Jesus today? Can we find him by worshiping in a church service or in other acts of religious piety like prayer, fasting, tithes and offerings? Yes. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus described another important place. During his ministry on earth he was possibly more often among our most needy neighbors, those who would be considered the least by many people. Jesus came to the poor and needy. He was born in the most impoverished circumstances, lived an itinerant life without fixed abode and served the sick and poor. We are called to join him in his ministry to the hungry and needy. If we want to find him that is where he is.
What is it about sheep and goats that Jesus used them in Matthew 25:31-46 as a parable for those who would be saved and those not? Sheep farming requires intensive animal husbandry. They require continual work. On the other hand, sheep are easy to work with because they are gentle and quiet. Goats on the other hand, are more independent and don’t require so much intensive animal husbandry. They are not as easily herded as sheep and they stink. When together in a flock, goats will domineer over the sheep and often butt them out of the way to reach food. However, they are not harmful predators like wolves, so they can stay with the flock to be separated out later. That is exactly what Jesus will do at the judgment. The selfish and independent can stay for now.
- How God Judges Nations
How will people who have never heard the name Jesus be judged? Are they automatically assigned to hell without a chance? What of those who perhaps heard the name Jesus but were taught lies? Would God just assign them to hell without mercy? Matthew 25:31-46 gives some clues as to how Jesus will judge the world? Whether or not people know the name Jesus, they may have served him by serving the poor. It is a major area where, even many who believe in Jesus fail. Could it just well be that some who believe in the name of Jesus will be judged more harshly than those who have never even heard the name? Could it be that some who do not even know Jesus by name will be blessed because they already love him by serving the needy?
- Living Faith
What kind of faith saves dead or living faith? In James 2 we read that faith is accompanied by works, not works of the law, but good deeds or it is dead. Must we do good works to earn salvation? We are saved by faith, and Paul said of faith, hope and love that love is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13). How can we have faith that saves without showing love to our neighbors? Does a closer look at Matthew 25:31-46 reveal that good works are evidence of those who are blessed by God? These “righteous” did not even know how they had fed and clothed Jesus. Could it be that their motive was love for God and their neighbor and not earning salvation by works? Could it be that such good works are evidence of living faith?
Do we see Jesus? Perhaps you think I’m crazy for suggesting it. Some people claim to have seen Jesus in visions but that is not what I am asking. Have we seen Jesus in the manner that Matthew 25:31-46 indicates? Some people avoid hungry and thirsty people and perhaps have never noticed them, but if we were to be invited to see Jesus, would we go to see him? If we have never seen strangers or those without clothing would we take the effort to go and see them? When we see a sick or imprisoned person, let’s take a closer look. Do we see Jesus? No? Take another look. Look past their faces and deep into their souls. Do we see the suffering, anxiety, pain, rejection, loneliness and depression? Do we see in them the suffering of Jesus?
Today’s text is not just for the church, but explains criteria by which God will judge all the nations. It is the gospel that evangelicals miss, what some call the social gospel. We all have a responsibility towards the problem of poverty, to loving God in our neighbor. We also saw how some characteristics of sheep and goats fit the discussion. Salvation is by faith, but not a dead faith, a living faith.
Finally, let us not be unknown to Jesus, but recognize Jesus in the needy. Let us allow Jesus to know us because the poor and marginalized know us.