This is the sermon that nobody wants to hear. It is far easier to preach the Gospel than live the Gospel. This contains one of the most important lessons in the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What are our individual and national responsibilities towards the needy?
We will look at the judgment of the nations in Matthew 25:31-46.
Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
King James Version (KJV) Public Domain
Questions about Charity
People say we should not mix religion and politics, but isn’t Jesus’ Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25) inescapably political? It is not partisan, but a serious warning to all sides? What does it say about welfare? What does it say about the homeless? What does it say about strangers near and far, born, unborn and foreign? When we look at a stranger, do we see Jesus? What does it say about looking after the sick, and health care reform? What does it say about every Christian’s responsibility in health care and prisons? What are legitimate complications and lame excuses? Is our faith alive with good deeds or dead without works?
A Gospel Story
A fellow pastor was involved in church sponsored relief after a national disaster. He noticed large crews repairing church buildings. Then they packed up and left. The pastor’s team stayed on to look after people. This is a part of the Gospel that’s easily missed. Repairing church buildings while people outside are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothing, in need of hospitality, sick, and in need of a caring visit is a woeful example of Christianity. Is it time for the Christian Church 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 (Matthew 25)?
The Social Gospel is the Gospel
Some Christians criticize the so-called social gospel as liberal. But, social responsibility is a part of the full Gospel message. Matthew 25 deepens Jesus' descriptions of being the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16) in good deeds, and the need to have oil to light our lamps (Matthew 25:1-13). Good works certainly entail pious deeds like prayer and Bible study. However, good works also involve deeds of charity such as feeding and clothing the needy. The so-called “social gospel” is loving our neighbor in action. When the “social gospel” is falsely accused of being liberal it is just an excuse for disobeying Jesus Christ and not loving our neighbor.
Poverty is caused by overpopulation, deficient distribution methods, rising costs, inadequate education, unemployment and underemployment, 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 Christians address those problems? Do we address only short-term needs like feeding the poor, or also the political and economic issues that cause poverty? Some Christians serve in soup kitchens. 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 (Matthew 25).
Where is Jesus?
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us always (Matthew 28:20, John 14:30, 2 Corinthians 13:5, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 3:17) and we sit with him, spiritually speaking, in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:5-6). He is in our worship, prayers, fasting, tithes and offerings? Matthew 25 describes other places to find Jesus. During his earthly ministry, he was often found among the least, the lost and the last. Jesus came to the poor and needy. He was born in 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.
Why Sheep and Goats
Why did Jesus contrast sheep and goats (Matthew 25)? Sheep farming is intensive animal husbandry, requiring continual work. But, they are easier to work with because they are gentle and quiet. Goats are more independent and don’t require so much intensive animal husbandry. But, they are not as easily herded as sheep and they stink. When herded together, goats will domineer and often butt sheep out of the way to reach food. However, they are not harmful predators like wolves, so do they stay with the flock to be separated out later? Is that exactly what Jesus will do at the judgment? Can selfish and stinking people stay in the church for now?
How God Judges Nations
Some say the needy are individual and not national responsibilities. But that contradicts what God requires of kings (Psalm 72), and the parable is about nations. Matthew 25 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 needy. Even many who believe in Jesus fail this. Could it be that some who believe in the name of Jesus will be judged more harshly than those who have never even understood his Gospel? Could some who do not even know Jesus by name be blessed because they already love him by serving the needy?
What kind of faith saves, a dead or a living faith? James 2 teaches that a living faith is accompanied by works, not works of the law, but good deeds. Dead faith is not. How can we have faith that saves without showing love to our neighbors? Does a closer look at Matthew 25 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
Do we see Jesus in the poor and needy of the land (Matthew 25)? 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?
Causes of Poverty
Half of Americans will experience poverty at some time. Declining union influence has reduced everyone’s wages. A quarter of Americans earn poverty-level incomes. People without a high school diploma are 3-5 times more likely to be poor. Fatherless families are 3-4 times more likely to be poor. Two thirds of disabled people are unemployed. Women suffering domestic abuse are twice as likely to to be unemployed. Women, minorities, children, immigrants, the disabled and female-headed households face far greater poverty rates. Loss of job, declining wages, poor education, absent fathers, having children and disability are major causes of poverty. In Matthew 25 Jesus said that our job is to feed the hungry.
Source: Rynell, Amy. CAUSES OF POVERTY: Findings from Recent Research. The Heartland Alliance. Mid-America Institute on Poverty. 2008.
Questions about Salvation & Works
Does the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25) teach salvation by works? By the washing of regeneration, we were born from above. The Holy Spirit transforms our lives by giving us participation in God’s loving nature. As Christians we are sanctified by faith (Acts 26:18) and by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Good works are evidence of a sanctified life (1 Thessalonians 4:1-7) and faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Saving faith is alive with the bright light of good works (Matthew 5:16) including helping the needy. works don’t save us. They are visible evidence of a living faith.
Amos gives a dire warning to any nation which tramples on the heads of the poor and denies justice to the oppressed. (Amos 2:7) Excuses are hollow justifications for greed and selfishness. The selfish party. The poor suffer. While the selfish oppress the poor and crush the needy, they say, 'Bring us some drinks!' (Amos 4:1) Nations oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in court (Amos 5:12). Amos is a dire warning to nations that stomp all over the needy and the poor (Amos 8:4). Such nations are cursed by God. Amos echoes Matthew’s message (Matthew 25) to relieve the poor.
The Great White Throne
The setting for the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25) is the last judgment at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15). True faith is revealed in action. The judgment is of all the nations, not just the Church. The examples represent human suffering. Other passages include widows and orphans. The Good Samaritan included the injured. Jesus calls all nations brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:40). What does the Holy Spirit say to us? Do we see their suffering as brothers and sisters? Do we have hearts of charity towards those in need? Following Jesus Christ our Savior is to participate in salvation of the world including saving the suffering as we are able.
The parable of the sheep and goats is serious business. As we sit in our comfortable homes and churches there are people outside who are suffering. Sure the issues are complex and the answers are not easy, but do we make excuses or are we doing what we can? Are our hearts hard and calloused or is the love of Christ shed abroad in our hearts?