Today, we’re going to look at a passage out of the 25th book of Matthew, in which Jesus instructs us on who we ought to serve and how. When we’re reading this passage, let’s do a few things together:
1. Read Jesus’ words as if he were speaking directly to you.
Pretend as if you’re standing right before Jesus and he tells you, “(name), I want you to really hear what I’m about to say because it is meant specifically for you.
2. Don’t jump ahead mentally.
Chances are, you know what Jesus’ point is in the story. Let’s try to go on this journey together and not jump immediately to Jesus’ point. It’s important we engage the process, so try intentionally think through the different points we’ll address.
3. Try to take Jesus’ words as literally as you possibly can.
Now, this isn’t a prescription for how to read the Bible. Jesus often told stories that weren’t literal events, and he often used hyperbole to drive home a point. But, for this passage, let’s try to take his words as literally as possible.
I think if we do these three things, we’ll experience something pretty cool today.
Let’s get started.
Those whom the Son of Man (Jesus) places on his right and thus invites into his kingdom are those who
- fed him
- quenched his thirst
- welcomed him
- clothed him
- visited him in his sickness
- and visited him in prison.
We all want to be in the kingdom of God, and so we should, as Jesus tells us, feed him, give him something to drink, and on and on. Remember, we are trying to receive these words as if Jesus were speaking directly to us, and we’re trying to understand them literally, so how do we do these things? The answer is that we are two millennia removed from the life of Jesus of Nazareth and thus have no chance to serve him in any these ways. This is, effectively, impossible (remember rule 2, don’t jump ahead mentally, pretend you’re ignorant to the conclusion of the teaching). So, we’re stuck.
The people in Jesus’ narrative were just as confused as our pretend ignorant selves. He continues,
Jesus tells his confused audience the point he was trying to make, mainly, when you serve others, you’re serving him (you can stop pretending now, we’ve arrived at the point). Jesus’ instructions were that when you give a hungry person food, you’re giving Jesus food. When you give a thirsty person a drink, you’re giving Jesus a drink.
But, we’ve always known this, right? This isn’t a new revelation. The problem is, I think we often neglect to take Jesus’ words as literally as he’ll allow us. We have effectively translated the last verse from “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” to “when you serve people, it’s as if you’re serving God. It may seem subtle, but practically, it makes a huge difference. Think about it. If you were to encounter the risen Jesus and he was hungry, you wouldn’t even think twice about feeding him, would you? Of course, you wouldn’t! You’d jump at the opportunity, and rightfully so. You wouldn’t need anyone else to know you were serving Jesus or if he would appreciate the food you were giving him, you’d just want to do it. You would find a deep and abounding joy in serving the risen Jesus. You’d be glowing with satisfaction and enjoyment. However, when it comes to people, we often have qualifiers we attach to serving them (even if we don’t say them aloud):
What if they don’t appreciate what I’m giving them?
Visiting them wouldn’t make a difference…
Someone else will help them out
I’m really not in a position to help
We wouldn’t say these to Jesus, so where’s the disconnect? The disconnect is in the way in which we’ve read this passage. We’ve failed to take Jesus’ words as literally as possible and thus have given ourselves a pass. In effectively translating his words to “It’d be as if you were serving me,” we’ve allowed ourselves to miss out on this command from Jesus and thus his invitation into the Kingdom.
The Reformer, Martin Luther, spoke on this very topic in a sermon he gave toward the end of his life.
It’s hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of conviction when hearing these words, right? That was Luther’s point. Any of us, knowing we were dealing with Jesus’ mom, would have done anything to help her. But today, we don’t believe we are dealing with Jesus. We think we’re simply dealing with people. Lest we forget, however, that our Savior Jesus feels our pain (and also the pain of the people whom he calls us to serve) let the prophet Isaiah and his suffering servant prophecy remind us:
If Jesus felt and died for our pain, then doesn’t it follow that when we serve people we aren’t merely serving them for God, but that we are actually serving God? Of course, there is a mysterious spiritual component at work here, because we would not want to argue that any human was literally God, but Jesus was pretty clear that it wasn’t as if we were serving God, but that we were, in fact, serving God.
Finally, let’s look at how Jesus wraps this teaching up (and for those of us that thought Martin Luther a little harsh, he clearly derived his thoughts on the matter from Jesus)
When we choose - for no good reason - to not serve people, we are choosing to not serve God. We Christ followers have been called into a life of servitude. That is the new life God has given us; one in which we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and serve God. We do this when we serve people.
Our hearts are consumed with many things that might distract us from the call God has placed on our lives, and these distractions make our spiritual lives quite difficult. Excuses are not hard to come by when thinking about if we ought to serve someone. However, if we would think about the joy we would feel by serving the risen Jesus, and try to remind ourselves that it is he we are serving when we serve people, we might find more joy on this earth than we ever thought we could experience.
This week, let’s all commit to serving Jesus whether he is a stranger in need of a coat or a meal, or even a man spending time behind bars. Let’s go out of our way and experience the joy he has set before us.
How are you going to serve Jesus today?