“Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me–you did it to me.” — Matthew 25:40 (MSG)
There are many reasons to help people in need.
“Benevolence is good for the world.”
“We all float on the same ocean. When the tide rises, it benefits everyone.”
“To deliver someone from poverty is to unleash that person’s potential as a researcher, educator, or doctor.”
“As we reduce poverty and disease, we reduce war and atrocities. Healthy, happy people don’t hurt each other.”
Compassion has a dozen advocates.
But for the Christian, none is higher than this: when we love those in need, we are loving Jesus. It is a mystery beyond science, a truth beyond statistics. But it is a message that Jesus made crystal clear: when we love them, we love him.
This is the theme of his final sermon. The message he saved until last. He must want this point imprinted on our conscience. He depicted the final judgment scene. The last day, the great Day of Judgment. On that day Jesus will issue an irresistible command. All will come. From sunken ships and forgotten cemeteries, they will come. From royal tombs and grassy battlefields, they will come. From Abel, the first to die, to the person being buried at the moment Jesus calls, every human in history will be present.
All the angels will be present. The whole heavenly universe will witness the event. A staggering denouement. Jesus at some point will “separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:32). Shepherds do this. They walk among the flock and, one by one, with the use of a staff direct goats in one direction and sheep in the other. Graphic, this thought of the Good Shepherd stepping through the flock of humanity. You. Me. Our parents and kids. “Max, go this way.” “Ronaldo, over there.” “Maria, this side.”
How can one envision this moment without the sudden appearance of this urgent question: What determines his choice? How does Jesus separate the people?
Jesus gives the answer. Those on the right, the sheep, will be those who fed him when he was hungry, brought him water when he was thirsty, gave him lodging when he was lonely, clothing when he was naked, and comfort when he was sick or imprisoned. The sign of the saved is their concern for those in need. Compassion does not save them—or us. Salvation is the work of Christ. Compassion is the consequence of salvation.
The sheep will react with a sincere question: when? When did we feed, visit, clothe, or comfort you (vv. 34-39)?
Jesus will recount, one by one, all the acts of kindness. Every deed done to improve the lot of another person. Even the small ones. In fact, they all seem small. Giving water. Offering food. Sharing clothing. The works of mercy are simple deeds. And yet, in these simple deeds we serve Jesus. Astounding this truth: we serve Christ by serving needy people.
Some of them live in your neighborhood; others live in jungles you can’t find and have names you can’t pronounce. Some of them play in cardboard slums or sell sex on a busy street. Some of them walk three hours for water or wait all day for a shot of penicillin. Some of them brought their woes on themselves, and others inherited the mess from their parents.
None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus. Who would want to miss a chance to do that?
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 creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”–(Matthew 25:34-36 NLT)
O Lord, where did I see you yesterday . . . and didn’t recognize you? Where will I encounter you today . . . and fail to identify you properly? O my Father, give me eyes to see, a heart to respond, and hands and feet to serve you wherever you encounter me! Transform me, Lord, by your Spirit into a servant of Christ, who delights to meet the needs of those around me. Make me a billboard of your grace, a living advertisement for the riches of your compassion. I long to hear you say to me one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And I pray that today I would be that faithful servant who does well at doing good. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
by Max Lucado