For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me. ~Matthew 25:35-36 ESV
These words of Christ have “haunted” me for years, particularly since this statement is later contrasted with His declaration to those who did not do these things (it’s not a happy thing, btw).
And sometimes, I write to get the thoughts out of my head.
I know there is a practical application here. John the Baptist addressed it when he instructed the repentant among his audience to share their possessions and food; and to act in an honest and just manner while engaging in business and other public duties (Luke 3:10-14).
John (the beloved disciple) also wrote of the importance of acting in love rather than just talking about it. James also reminded readers of the necessity of living in a compassionate manner.
“But if anyone has the world’s good and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18 ESV).
Helping others in a practical way is certainly good thing.
However, in the greater context of scripture, there is deeper significance to what Jesus was saying. As always, He hit straight at the “heart” of the matter, regarding the motivation for doing such things. In fact, every material humanitarian effort He listed in Matthew 25 has a spiritual parallel that can be located elsewhere in scripture.
1. Food for the hungry: (Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD ~Deuteronomy 8:3; “I am the Bread of Life” ~ Jesus. John 6:36-51)
2. Drink for the thirsty: (Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinkis of the Water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The Water that I will give him will become in him a spring of Water welling up to eternal life.” ~ John 4:13-14 ESV)
3. Welcome the stranger (Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels (messengers of God) unawares.~ Hebrews 13:2 ESV)
4. Clothing the naked: Clothing, in scripture often represents righteousness before God. Or it depicts the glory of an honored position. Our need for physical covering reminds us that we must have a reliable way for our own unrighteousness to be seen by Him. When God had to send Adam and Eve from the Garden, His parting gift to them was clothing made from animal skins (Genesis 3). It was a reminder to them (and us) that God Himself would provide covering for their shame.
Ironically, we read in Luke 23:34 of both God’s covering love and the casting of lots for the earthly clothing of Christ, who hung naked and exposed during His crucifixion. (And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they known not what they do. And they cast lots to divide His garments. ~ Luke 23:34 ESV)
(See also “ Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends”. Proverbs 17:9 ESV; “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” 1 Peter 4:8)
5. Visit the sick: Those who do not know God are sick in their hearts. Even if they do not know it.
6. Go to the Prisoners: This is a difficult one to address, as I do not intend to belittle prison ministry in any way. But I want to highlight the fact that not all prisoners are locked away. In fact, there are far more individuals walking free who are literal prisoners to emotional disorders, various addictions, abusive relationships, compulsions to self-harm etc… Their souls are truly existing in a state of “hell” and they cannot find a way out on their own. And Jesus wants us to notice and go to them in love, praying that God will release them from their bondage, rather than stand back and judge them for not performing better. If His Life is flowing out of you like water, you will not be “contaminated” by these people. Just as Jesus was not contaminated by touching ceremonially unclean people in NT accounts. (“And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” ~ Jude 1:22-23 ESV)
The criteria for judgment in Matthew 25 is not “how many wonderful humanitarian works did you do?”
The measurement is whether such things were done “in Christ’s name”, with the intent to share hope for healing, given out of love for the soul of the other individual.
*Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)*
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
*1 Timothy 6:17-19 (ESV)*
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV)
Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
Ephesians 6:10-11 (NKJV)
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Can I handle it?
2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NKJV)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
•Things Christians are not promised in this life, through scripture:
~popularity among peers
~satisfying love life
~perfect physical health
~freedom to be whatever we want
These are all worldly (temporal) goals. These things can make our existence more pleasant, or convenient; and can sometimes be considered a blessing by those who manage to keep things in proper perspective.
But Christians are supposed to be looking ahead to something better.
Hebrews 11:13-16 (NKJV)
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.
And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
•We are actually told to expect:
~loss of personal possessions
~spiritual discernment regarding sin
~generalized struggle with our own self-indulgent sin nature
~God’s provision in God’s timing
~prayer support (and accountability) from other believers
Romans 7:18; 8:13
1 Corinthians 5:11-13
2 Timothy 3:12
Isaiah 40:1-3 (NKJV)
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God.
2 “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD’s hand Double for all her sins.”
3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.
Isaiah 9:6-7 (NKJV)
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Luke 2:10-14 (NKJV)
10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
11 “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Matthew 5:17-18 (NKJV)
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
18 “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
John 19:30 (NKJV)
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
Mark 16:5-6 (NKJV)
And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.
God has sent Light and Life into the World via the Person of His Son.
He has demonstrated His desire for us to be at peace with Him.
He has cleared the way.
This is Good News.