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When you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me. And they will go away into eternal punishment. - Matthew 25:45-46 (NLT)
I recently had the privilege of spending time with the ONE Campaign at their global headquarters in Washington DC. This non-profit organization fights against extreme poverty and preventable disease by utilizing pop culture to mobilize people toward political advocacy in order to effect policy change. One of the most subtle facets of their methodology is the use of prophecy to call people to action.
It’s not uncommon to find Christians today who are uncomfortable with the concept of prophecy. We associate it with “fortune telling” or some kind of ancient mysticism reserved only for a handful of extreme (and odd) spiritual outliers. Yet we would do well to recapture a better understanding what it means to be prophetic. A decent working definition of prophecy could be this: a Holy-Spirit-inspired vision of what the future could be or should be.
That’s not so bad, is it? Perhaps it will help let our “mumbo-jumbo” guard down a little bit more to remember that Jesus Himself was (and is) thought of as a prophet. After all, Jesus’ ministry was all about painting a picture of what the Kingdom of God is and what it means to inhabit that Kingdom.
If we believe what the Bible says about Jesus (i.e. that He is the Messiah), we would be wise to also believe what Jesus said. Prophecy is often hard to receive because it challenges the status quo. Jesus’ words are no different: they are hard, but they are important.
In this case, if you refuse to help those in need, you are keeping Jesus Himself at arm’s length… and those who distance themselves from Jesus have no place in the Kingdom of God.
Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? - Esther 4:14 (NLT)
The book of Esther gives us a case study in what it looks like to leverage God-given privilege for God-ordained purposes. Esther, a Jew living in the Persian kingdom during the time of exile, is brought into the king’s palace as his wife. Through no merit of her own, Esther lands in a position of incredible privilege and, as a result, influence.
When a plot is uncovered that would effectively wipe out the Jewish nation from the face of the earth, it is left to Esther to stop the genocide. Naturally, there are risks involved in advocacy. In Esther’s case, coming before the king and displeasing him would likely mean execution. Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, cuts to the chase: “You have been placed inside these gates so that you can advocate for those on the outside.”
We don’t get to care about others only when it’s safe or when we feel like it. The call Jesus places on our lives is to care for those outside the gates all the time, in every circumstance. Concern for others isn’t an optional piece of the Christian life; justice isn’t an addendum to the gospel. Compassion, mercy, and justice are the Christian’s complete vocation.
Jesus says we will all one day be counted as either sheep (those who give freely of themselves on behalf of those in need); or goats (those who neglect justice and mercy for the sake of their own comfort or safety).
Reality check. If you are reading this, you are inside the gates. You live in one of the richest nations the world has ever seen. You are wealthier than at least 90% of the world’s population. You live in a democracy and a have both resources and a voice that can help serve and save the lives of others.
We have to ask, “Am I a sheep or a goat?”
Generosity is a muscle: it grows over time with use. Start today. Give your server a large tip; make a private donation to or volunteer to serve at a local non-profit; use the Nextdoor app for good and offer your skilled services to your neighborhood, etc.Share Tweet
Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. - Matthew 25:41 (NLT)
The classic Abbott and Costello routine, Who’s On First?, is unquestionably the duo’s most famous bit, and is arguably one of the greatest comedic acts of all time. If you’re not familiar with it, I can only assume you’re a toddler or you hate laughing. The entire bit is built around clever word play: Abbott lists off the unusual names of baseball players (Who, What, I Don’t Know, etc.), and Costello gets increasingly frustrated because he fails to realize that these are actual names, not questions. The confusion over words and their meaning becomes a source of great vexation for Lou Costello, and a source of much laughter for the audience.
In the Church, we are often guilty of doing this to the words of the Bible, though the result is far less entertaining. We wittingly use misinterpretations of Scripture to mask our own apathy or, worse, disobedience.
Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly.” Sadly, I tend to agree.
There are certainly times when Jesus uses figurative language to make a point that only those “with ears to hear” will pick up on. But His words in Matthew 25 do not fall into that category. Jesus does not mince words here: “You who do not help the person in need have no place in the kingdom of God.”
Remember the foolish man who built his house on the sand? The storms came and his house washed away and he was left with nothing - that guy? Jesus’ description of this man was one who “hears [his] words and does not put them into practice.”
God, give us ears to hear AND faith to act.
Read James 1:27. Memorize it. Bring it to mind whenever you see a need.Share Tweet
He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. - Matthew 25:33 (NLT)
As I was writing this week’s devotions, an interesting article was published highlighting a new study done by the Pew Research Center. According to the study, Americans are, at large, becoming more unfavorable to the idea that the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees into our country. Shamefully, the demographic group most opposed to this responsibility is white Protestant males.
That’s uncomfortable to read, but let it settle for a moment. A religiously unaffiliated adult is more than twice as likely to support the welcoming of refugees than a Protestant Christian who claims to follow and identify with Jesus! As a group, we’ve gotten this all wrong. I’m not sure we get to identify ourselves with Jesus if we’re not willing to walk as Jesus walked, talk as Jesus talked, or act as Jesus acted.
In Matthew 25, we are reminded about the final judgement where what matters is not how we identified ourselves, but how Jesus identifies us. We will fall into one of two groups: the righteous who go to eternal life (v. 46), or the wicked who go to eternal punishment (v. 41 & 46).
The criteria are not hidden or mystical, either. Those who are welcomed by Jesus into eternal life:
Feed the hungry.
Give water to the thirsty.
Clothe the naked.
Care for the sick.
Visit the imprisoned.
Welcome the stranger into their homes (v. 35-36).
There is no wiggle room here - no gray area for rationalizing our way out of compassion. We either do these things or we do not. Writer and speaker Ann Voskamp puts it plainly: “We don’t get to say we’re committed to Jesus if we’re not committed to those in need. God’s people are the forgotten people. The way we remember God is to remember the forgotten. Unless you care about justice, you don’t care about Jesus.”
And clearly the research now would say, sadly, we do not.
When you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it me. - Matthew 25:40 (NLT)
We all know greatness when we see it: watching Michael Jackson, Serena Williams, or LeBron James do their respective things leaves us nothing short of amazed.
When anyone in the Bible came face to face with God in His glory, they were immediately brought to their knees in total humility. Paul on the road to Damascus, the disciples seeing Jesus walk on water, Moses covering his face when he encountered the burning bush… on and on we could go. When faced with God’s infinite greatness and glory, our only response will be one of holy fear and awe.
If Jesus Himself - the visible image of the invisible God - walked up to any one of us and asked for a drink, no doubt we would fall on our faces in worship, then scramble to the kitchen to get a tall glass of ice cold water for Him. Lickity split.
The trouble is we so often fail to see the image of God in the people around us. All of humanity was created in God’s image, brought to life at His word and by His breath. Can you even imagine what a difference it would make if the Church - every member of the body of Christ - took this seriously? What would happen if we looked people in the eyes (Every. Single. Person. Period.) and said to ourselves, “This person carries the imprint of God Almighty”? How would we respond to questions of assistance and development, both locally and globally, if we stared at images on our news feed and looked for Jesus instead of looking for an excuse?
Jesus is asking us to see the innate value in every life and to act accordingly, even if it costs us greatly. Church, if we get this right, we’ll look a whole lot more like Jesus, and the whole world will have a chance to see Him as a result.