Caring Like Jesus

Matthew 25:31-46

October 16, 2005 | Brian Bill

One Sunday morning an old cowboy dressed in jeans, a denim shirt, and old boots came to church.  In his hand he carried a worn out hat and an equally worn out Bible.  The church was the largest and the most beautiful he had ever seen and people were really dressed up.  As the cowboy took a seat, everyone moved away from him.  No one greeted him or welcomed him, as the whole church seemed to look down on his appearance.  When the service was over, the preacher approached him and said: “Before you come back again, have a talk with God and ask Him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.”  

The next Sunday he showed up looking just like he did the first week and was once again completely shunned.  The preacher approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church.”  The cowboy replied, “I did.”  The preacher asked, “Well, if you spoke to God about the proper attire for attending here, what did He say?”  The cowboy looked at the preacher and said, “Well, sir, God told me that He didn’t have a clue what I should wear.  He says He’s never been in this church before.”

May that never be said of this church!  We not only want God in this church, we affirm that we are not a church without Him!  We’re learning that in order to be an IMPACT church, we must follow the message and model of Jesus.  This is a good time to do some personal assessment since we’ll conclude this series next week.  By the way, you won’t want to miss the next series called “Marriage Matters.”  Give yourself a rating on a scale of 1 to 10 in each of these IMPACT areas.

  • Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing.  How are you doing at Loving God and Loving Others?
  • Instruction.  Are you reading, feeding and heeding the Bible on a daily basis? 
  • Ministry.  Are you waiting, watching and working for the Master?
  • Prayer.  Have you been praying for God’s glory and for our good?
  • Adoration.  Did you worship God this week, not in a place but as a lifestyle expression of adoration to a personal God within the parameters of sprit and truth?
Judgment is inevitable

And today our focus is on caring like Jesus.  Please turn in your copy of God’s Word to Matthew 25:31-46.  If you’re using one of the Bibles found under the chairs closest to the middle aisle, our passage is found on page 702.  In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus has been speaking about His return, specifically focusing on some of the signs of His second coming.  We’re to keep watch because we don’t know the exact day or time.  In the meantime we must be found faithful.  He uses metaphors of keeping lamps burning and using the talents or resources we’ve been given.  When we come to verse 31, Jesus switches images and speaks in very clear terms about the coming judgment: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.”  Notice the use of the word “when.”  It’s not a question of whether or not Jesus is coming back; it’s a matter of when.  Judgment is inevitable.  

No one will escape the judgment of Jesus in Matthew 25:32-33: “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”  We see that this judgment is:

  • For all people groups.  No nation will be left out and every people group will appear.  Psalm 96:13: “He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.” 
  • For all people.  No individual will be exempt and every person will have to give an account.  Hebrews 9:27: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”
  • A precise separation.  As Malachi 3:18 states, there are no shades of gray: “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”  A person is either a sheep or a goat. I did some checking this week and found out that there is no cross-breeding between sheep and goats.  There is no such thing as a shoat or a geep.  Friend, you are either a believer or an unbeliever.  You have been declared righteous or you are still unregenerate.  You are in the kingdom or outside.  In the Bible to be on the “right hand” is a position of honor, while the left hand signifies dishonor and doom.  

This image would have been very common to those in Bible times.  Sheep are often used to describe God’s people (Psalm 100:3; John 10:27) while goats represent the unruly and unrighteous (Ezekiel 34:17-19; Daniel 8:5-8).  It was common practice for a shepherd to own both sheep and goats that would intermingle in the same herd during the day.  At night time however, because goats were often belligerent and unruly, making it hard for the sheep to sleep, the shepherd would call the sheep by name and they would come to him.  He would stand at the gate and send the sheep into one pen and the goats would be sent in the other direction.  And the shepherd was never confused about their identity because the difference between sheep and goats is obvious when you’re up close.

The idea here is very similar to the parables of the wheat and the weeds.  They both grow together in the fields but at harvest they are separated and the weeds are “tied in bundles to be burned” (Matthew 13:24-30).  This same point is made in the parable about the fishermen catching good fish in the net along with foul ones in Matthew 13:48-49: “Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.  This is how it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous.”

A Call to Come

Let’s look now at Matthew 25:34 where Jesus addresses those on his right hand.  By the way, Jesus only refers to himself as “King” two times, and both times are in this section of Scripture, in verse 34 and in verse 40“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’”  Let me linger here because it’s very important to make a clear distinction before we go much further.  Some people, when reading this passage think that the way to get to heaven is to by doing good deeds.  I think it’s because they skip over verse 34.  Let’s look at some of the key phrases.

  • “Come.”  What a great word!  For those of us who’ve come to Jesus by faith, we can expect to hear these warm words from Him in the future.
  • “Blessed by my Father.”  Only believers receive blessing from God as Ephesians 1:3 states: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
  • “Your inheritance.”  An inheritance is based upon relationship and is given to someone in the family.  Only those who are born again are called children of God and are adopted into the family of God.  Romans 8:17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”
  • “Kingdom prepared for you…” God doesn’t find us a place based upon our good works but upon His good plan that He has prepared in advance.  We see this in Ephesians 1:4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world” and in Matthew 20:23: “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.  These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 
  • “Righteous.”  In verses 37 and 46, those on the right are referred to as righteous.  The Bible is very clear that the only way to be declared righteous is by putting your faith and trust in Jesus so that His righteousness is credited to your account.  Romans 5:19: “…so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

Notice that we are not asked to present our case or even given a chance to make a statement.  The King simply makes an invitation for us to come and we can do so only because He has made a way.  We are blessed because of His work.  We receive an inheritance because He has made us to be born again.  We have a place in His kingdom only because He has prepared it for us.  And we are righteous as a result of what the Redeemer has done.  The Judge has satisfied His own justice through His own substitionary death.

We could say it this way: We are believers as a result of belief not our behavior; but believers must demonstrate their belief by their behavior.  Salvation is by grace and the person who is so saved by grace demonstrates the authenticity of that salvation by doing good works.  In other words, good deeds are the fruit of our faith.  Let’s keep the grid of James 2:14-17 in mind as we continue in our passage: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

The ultimate mark of an authentic believer is not his creed but how he responds to those in need.  Jesus mentions six practical ways that demonstrate whether or not we are caring and compassionate in verses 35-36: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”  Jesus introduces each of these by using the words, “I…me.” At the judgment, the righteous will be a bit confused because they will not remember doing any of this for Jesus.  Look at verses 37-39: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’” 

Let me make five observations.

1. There is no mention of any sins here. 

Jesus is not bringing up any of the bad things believers may have done but is instead celebrating the good they have done.  All of our sins are sent away because of the shed blood of Jesus. 

2. These are simple acts. 

Providing a meal, giving a drink, inviting someone in, giving clothes, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison are relatively simple things to do.  These six things do not depend on wealth or position or power.  When the sheep had the opportunity to do good deeds, they just did these common acts of kindness with no fanfare or even recognition.  There’s no pomp, no plaques and no prestige.

3. These acts are also sacrificial. 

While simple to do, many of us walk right past needs all the time because we think we’re too busy, or because we’re too judgmental, or too whatever.  Let’s face it.  By definition, you can’t serve without sacrificing something.  It might be money or time or comfort or pride or something else, but there will always be a cost.

4. There will be an element of surprise. 

While we may minimize simple acts of caring and compassion, they are a very big deal to Jesus.  He not only sees them, He also remembers them and will bring them up at judgment time.

5. Deeds done for those in need are done to the Savior. 

Jesus says in verse 40: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”  The word “least” is emphatic.  It literally means, “Even these least” and refers to the “forgotten, the poorest and most despised.”  Jesus challenges us in Matthew 18:10 to “not look down on little ones.”  Whenever I hear this phrase I immediately think of the preborn children who need to be protected.  As Proverbs 31:8 says, we must “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”  Acts of kindness done to others are really done to Christ.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “In Jesus, the service of God and the service of the least of the brethren were one.”

A Command to Depart

Those who are converted are invited to come while those who are still disobedient are commanded to depart.  This next section contains strong words that are not very popular in our pluralistic, spiritually soft culture.  Let me remind you that this is King Jesus talking.  Look at verse 41: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”  Believers receive a warm greeting while those who aren’t converted will go to a hot place.  Can you imagine how that would feel to hear the King tell you to depart?  Not only that but to be commanded to get away from Christ?  And then to hear that you are cursed, which is the opposite of blessed and means “to be cut off from the presence of God.”  And then to hear that you will spend eternity in a place of unquenchable fire along with the devil and his demons?   Jesus spoke often of Hell, referring to it as a “fiery furnace” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  

Those who are cursed are those who have not been converted.  The evidence of their sinfulness is their selfishness as stated in verses 42-43: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”  How one views the outcast and downtrodden and hurting reveals whether or not regeneration has taken place.  The evidence of our “sheepness” or “goatness” is shown by what we do or don’t do.  1 John 3:17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

Just like the sheep, the goats will be surprised as well.  I’m told a goat may be smarter than a sheep but apparently these goats were not smart enough to be saved. They ask in verse 44: “Lord, [at least they acknowledge Him as Lord but now it’s too late] when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”  They didn’t see because they didn’t want to see.  Interestingly, they are judged for sins of omission, not sins of commission.  It was George Bernard Shaw who said, “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent.”  In verse 45, the King replies, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  

Jesus then summarizes the clear teaching of Scripture in verse 46: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  There are only two possible destinations.  This is also clear in the Old Testament as stated in Daniel 12:2: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”  Where will you go when you die?  As John Hannah has said, “No one who was ever in hell will be able to say to God, ‘You put me here,’ and no one who is in heaven will ever be able to say, ‘I put myself here.’”  

Friend, are you a goat or a sheep?  Are you in or are you out?  Are you redeemed or unregenerate?  Jesus spoke so much about eternal punishment in a place called Hell because He loves you too much to want you to go there.  It’s time to step into the healing rain of God’s amazing grace.  If you’re already a believer, it’s time to no longer walk past needs that are right in front of you.  God purposely places people in our path every day.  The question is this, “Do we see them and will we serve them?”

Jesus says to you today, “Come.”  Will you do so?  Will you allow Him to rain His grace down on you?  If you don’t come now you’ll be told to depart later.

40 Day “Dare to Care” Challenge

When I was around 10 years old, my dad asked me to go and mow our neighbor’s lawn.  Like any good boy would do, I obeyed my dad but my motive was money.   I was hoping old Joe Schwarz would pay me well so I eagerly went over and began mowing.  Things started off bad because he literally followed me around the whole yard just to make sure I didn’t miss a spot.  I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t wait to finish so I can get him off my back.  I sure hope he pays me well!”  When I was finished he fished in his pocket and pulled out a quarter and flipped it to me as he said, “Here’s two bits.  Go buy yourself an ice cream cone.”  I grunted out my gratitude and raced home to tell my dad that I will never mow old man Schwarz’s lawn again.  I’ll never forget what my dad said next: “Brian, you will mow his lawn whenever it needs it, regardless of whether he pays you a quarter or 10 dollars.  He’s all alone, he can’t do it himself, and he needs the help.”  I grudgingly told my dad I would do so and I’ve never forgotten that lesson.  Joe and I became good friends and I grew to love him as I found out more about his life, even though he never gave me a raise all the years I mowed his lawn.

Friend, what is it that you can do for someone?  How can you care like Christ as you minister to Christ by caring for others?  I want to give a closing challenge to each of us.  There are 40 Days between now and Thanksgiving.  I want us to “Dare to Care” by participating in a conspiracy of kindness every day for the next 40 days.  Would you consider taking this 40 Days of Caring challenge?  It doesn’t have to be a big thing that you do each day, but I do want you to make every effort every day to do an act of caring and kindness toward someone who might be considered “the least of these.”  In his book called, “Conspiracy of Kindness,” Steve Sjogren challenges believers to “demonstrate the kindness of God by offering to do some humble service with no strings attached” (Page 18).  It can be a meal, a place to come, clothes, time, water, or a visit.  We can then share what we learned at our Thanksgiving Eve service.

You may not see a halo around people, yet to serve them is to serve Christ, for the King is present in them

When you see someone you don’t know, try personalizing them by giving them a name in your mind.   Maybe call a guy “Joe” or a woman “Julie.”  If you can’t do that, put the name of Jesus on them.  We need to see people as Jesus does…and see people as Jesus.  A nineteenth century painting shows a long row of beggars waiting in a soup line. They all look pretty rough.  But around the head of one, barely perceptible, is a halo.  You may not see a halo around people, yet to serve them is to serve Christ, for the King is present in them.  It was Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”

For the next forty days, find someone who is in more need than you are.  It may be a stranger.  It may be someone different from you.  Ask the Lord to bring people across your path everyday that you can care for in simple yet sacrificial ways, and watch God surprise you.  Who is it that is ignored?  Who is considered least?  Who do we characterize and categorize and marginalize?

I’ll never forget the visit I received in the hospital when our daughter Becca was born.  She had stopped breathing a couple times and I was really scared.  I remember being out in the hallway feeling alone and overwhelmed when I looked up and saw a deacon from the church walking toward me.  He was a man of few words so he just came up to me and gave me a big hug, stayed a few minutes and then left.  That happened more than eleven years ago and I’ll never forget his conspiracy of kindness.

Here are few ways you and I can dare to care for the next 40 days.  These ideas are just meant to prime the pump because I know that Jesus will reveal some customized ways for you to care like He does.  I like what Pastor Jeff tells students, “Just Do Something.”

  • Make a meal for someone and leave it on their steps
  • Buy a bag of groceries for someone and leave it on their car
  • Leave a quarter in one of the shopping carts at Aldi
  • Visit a shut-in
  • Tutor someone who is struggling
  • Shovel someone’s sidewalks (I’m hoping for snow before Thanksgiving)
  • Be a Salvation Army Bell Ringer
  • Buy some gift certificates and hand them out to strangers
  • Drop off jars of Baby Food at the Caring Pregnancy Center
  • Participate in Project Angel Tree
  • Fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

John Wesley used to say, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and so she opened her bag to share her food.  The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him.  She did so without hesitation.  The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune.  He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for the rest of his life.  But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.  “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I want to give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious: Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone” (Author Unknown).

Will you dare to care for the next 40 days?  Let me give a final challenge: Whenever you have an impulse to do good, act on it.  Don’t put it off.  Part of our problem is that we just don’t hear the hurting.  We’re not tuned in like we should be because if we were we would see needs all around us and be doing all we can to meet them.  Someday we may ask, “Lord, when did we see you?”  And He will answer, “When not?”  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?