Today we are going to learn what gets to the heart of Jesus. If you really want to touch Jesus, please listen carefully.
What we are going to learn today is so important to Jesus that our faith will be judged based on whether or not our lives reflect this particular characteristic.
The Bible is clear that there will be a judgment. Everyone will be judged by God. Christians will be judged. Even saints of the church will be judged. All of us will be judged. Now this is different from salvation. We will address that a little later but the Bible is clear that even those who have received Christ as Savior will be judged. The Bible is also clear that we will not be judged on what we believe, although what we believe is very important. We will not be judged on how strong our faith is, although having a strong faith is critical. We will not be judged on what denomination we were a part of, although that can be important. We will not be judged on whether we got sprinkled, dunked or poured on at our baptism.
What we are going to discover today from the lips of Jesus is that we will not be judged by our faith but by a particular fruit of our faith. Again, this does not mean faith is not important, but for Jesus if our faith is genuine this particular fruit will be evident.
I believe some of you might be surprised by this fruit. Because so many of us have preconceived notions or misguided understandings about what is important to Jesus. In fact, those of you who don’t consider yourselves Christian may be surprised as well. It may change your understanding of God.
The fruit that will be judged is not a creed. It is not your prayer life. It is not your opinion on same sex marriage or any other emotionally charged issue. It is not your view of the Bible or the way you interpret the Bible. It is not the way you worship or the television shows you watched or how often you attended church or how often you cussed or thought impure thoughts. Although all of those things are important issues to Jesus and they certainly play a critical role in our faith. But according to Jesus and the witness of all scripture there is but one fruit of faith that will be the basis of judgment.
And this may be a game changer for you. What you discover today may change the way you approach your faith and live out your faith. What you learn today may reorient the way you see your faith and relationship with Christ. One thing I promise – today’s message will draw you closer to the heart of Christ.
In fact, this message will draw us so close to Christ that it may change the way we do church. It may change the way we approach ministry and run the business of the church. It may change the way we spend and budget our money. It may change the way you do business and the way you personally spend money. It may change the way we spend our time personally and professionally.
So if you are someone who is concerned with how Jesus thinks you are doing in the way you follow him, listen up.
Let’s take a look at something Jesus said in the 25th chapter of the gospel of Matthew. This whole chapter is made up of three parables Jesus told about judgment. These parables are meant to give us a heads up about being prepared for judgment and knowing the basis of judgment. We are going to look at the final parable in this chapter which reveals the fruit of the faith that Jesus believes reveals genuine faith. Jesus’ parable begins this way:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 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. –Matthew 25:31-33
Wow! This parable gives a bit of a sneak preview of what will happen when the kingdom of God fully comes on the earth! Now, again, it is a parable, so it has its limits. But one thing is clear. When the kingdom comes Jesus will be in power and in glory and all nations will be under him. The Bible says that “Every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!”
According to the parable, when all the nations of the world are before Jesus, a judgment will occur. This judgment will divide folks into two camps: the sheep and the goats. Now in Palestine in Jesus’ day a shepherd could easily separate sheep and goats by their color and bodily characteristics. The sheep will be put on the right side, the side of honor and blessing. And the goats will be put on the left side, the side of dishonor. Look what happens next:
“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.” –Matthew 25:34
So in the parable Jesus said the sheep, those on the right side, those on the blessed side will be invited to enter the beautiful and glorious kingdom of heaven. They will be invited to take their inheritance and realize all the promises of eternal life.
Why do the sheep on the right get an invitation into the kingdom of heaven? What did they do that the goats did not do? Was it because they were holy? Methodists? Was it because they worshipped in a contemporary service or had the correct doctrine? Was it because they had read tons of books on theology and acquired vast knowledge? No. Then what was it? You ready for this?
“‘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.’” –Matthew 25:35-36
Jesus said the sheep, the righteous, those with genuine faith are those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, were hospitable to strangers, clothed the naked, took care of the sick and visited prisoners. Let me say that again. In the parable Jesus said those who inherited the kingdom were those who took care of the stranger, the sick, thirsty hungry, naked, and the prisoner.
So, according to this parable, when the kingdom of God comes each of us will be singled out and Christ will not ask us about our creed, denomination, or doctrine. He will not ask us how many Bible studies or worship services we attended. No. He will ask us, “What did you do about the homeless in your community? Did you take care of your neighbors and enemies who were sick? Did you ever visit the local jail? Did you ever invite someone into your home who wasn’t welcome anywhere else?”
So we can conclude that Christ judges our faith based on how we respond to human need. Christ judges us to see if our faith has led to true self denial and sympathy for the beaten, broken and bruised. Christ judges us to see if our faith in him moves us to love as he loves.
Now I remember when I was younger and read this parable it messed up my good Protestant theology. I always believed and I still believe that we are saved by the grace of God through faith. It’s not based on works! It doesn’t matter how good you are or how much good you have done, but it is whether or not you have repented and received Christ as Lord and Savior. It’s about whether or not Christ lives in your heart. It’s about faith and not works.
And then I read this parable and thought, “That seems to go against everything I have been taught! Jesus, my savior, seems to be saying that it is based on how good I have been!” Well, don’t let this parable mess up your theology. I still believe and will always believe that we are saved by grace through faith. In fact, we can’t do anything we are called by God to do without the grace of God. What’s very important to keep in mind is that this is not a salvation parable but a judgment parable. All people, including those who have been saved, will be judged on the fruit of their faith. The Bible is clear that we are saved by grace but the Bible is also clear we will be judged on how well we responded to that grace by helping those in need.
So you want to know how Christ will be able to tell if our faith in him is genuine, if he really lives in our hearts, if his love is alive in us? He will be able to tell by one distinguishing characteristic: how we have responded to human need. Period. So it does matter what we believe because if our faith in Christ as Savior is real, we will love and care for those in need. Period.
So you really want to touch the heart of Jesus? You really want to warm his heart? You really want to pull on his heart strings? You really want to impress the heck out of him? Care for those in need.
Now I know what some of you may be thinking. “Really? This is what impresses Jesus the most? This is what touches him the most? Charity? Being kind to those who are less fortunate than us? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I think it is important too, but why does the parable make it the only criteria? We know we are supposed to be nice to people, and kind and generous, but aren’t a lot of people like that? Why is responding to those in need this important to Jesus?”
Well Jesus tells us why in the parable because the sheep in the parable were just as surprised and bewildered as some of you may be. They didn’t understand how Jesus was connected to how they responded to those in need. Take a look:
“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?’” –Matthew 25:37-39
And then Jesus responded with some of the most profound, convicting and moving words he ever spoke:
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” –Matthew 25:40
Why does Christ judge our faith based on how we respond to human need? Because Christ is so intimately connected to every human being that he feels every wound, every tear, and every pain we feel. He loves the world so much that he can’t stand the suffering. And so when we touch, heal, love, serve, feed, clothe, visit, and listen, Christ feels it just as if we were doing it to him. It’s like when someone does something nice for a child. How does the parent feel? The parent feels it just as much as the child. My mom used to say, “Having a child is like having your heart come out of your body and walk around in the world.” Imagine how much more Christ feels our wounds and pain!
I remember when I was in seminary at Emory I had the privilege of serving communion in chapel when two dignitaries who were in worship, former President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the great champion of peace in South Africa. In fact, I helped Archbishop Tutu serve communion. As I stood next to him, holding the elements, I remember his hands. They were not the soft hands of a church dignitary; rather they were the hands of a servant of Christ. They were rough, callused and scarred, hands not afraid to serve Christ who also possessed wounded hands.
Later Archbishop Tutu preached a sermon. And he said something in his message I have never forgotten. He talked about the saving love of Christ and how it can transform all of us – a love that truly died for our sins. But, he said, if you really want to get close to Jesus, you will not stay at the foot of the cross, but you will climb up on the cross to see what Jesus sees and to feel what Jesus feels.
And if you have the courage to do that you will understand why caring for those in need is so important to Jesus because right now someone here today is suffering from loneliness. Right now someone thinks they are nobody to nobody. Right now someone is suffering from abuse and misuse. Right now someone is suffering from depression. Right now someone is suffering with a debilitating illness. Right now someone is suffering from an unforgiven past.
I find that people are always trying to get closer to Jesus. They brag about all the Bible studies they do and the conferences they will be going to and all they are going to do to improve their prayer life. And all of that is good and useful but you want to know the quickest way to get close to Jesus? Go get a sandwich for a homeless person and look him in the eyes. Hold the hand of someone suffering in the hospital. Visit someone in prison. Help build a habitat house. If you do that, I promise you will feel close to Christ. It is the quickest and easiest way to Jesus’ heart.
Yesterday I drove over to Largo to feed a group of people in our church who volunteered to help build a Habitat house for a family in need. I brought them lunch from Panera. As I watched them come get their lunch with sweat all over them and their bodies stiff and worn out, I could tell by looking in their eyes that most, if not all, of them were as close to Jesus as they have ever been in their lives.
The church spends too much time majoring in the minors. If the church spent as much time caring and loving those in need as it does debating doctrine and passing judgment the world would be a different place. If you read the rest of the parable you will find that the goats are discarded. Now don’t panic. This does not denote finality, but it is definitely a warning and a time for pruning. It’s as if we are being told through the parable to keep our eye on the ball and what is most important to Jesus.
This week I was coming out of Walgreen’s and a homeless man asked me for a couple of dollars for food. I said, “Tell you what; there is a Checkers across the street. How about I go over there and get you whatever you want?” He replied, “Really?” I said, “Really! I’ll get you 20 hamburgers if you want them. Name it.” He told me he wanted four checker burgers, large fries and a coke with no ice. I said, “You go it.” I drove across the street, ordered his food, and came back to hand it to him. When I gave him the bag of food there was a big smile on his face and he said, “You are a true friend.”
Well, I drove away and then I remembered that I forgot to get something at Walgreens. So I turned around and drove back. It hadn’t been more than 5 or 10 minutes. When I parked I saw the homeless man and the bag of food was empty. He had eaten the entire meal that quickly. He devoured it. He gave me a fist pump and said, “You are a true friend.” I must say that as I he said it I thought about this sermon and it was as if Christ was saying to me through this man, “You are a true friend.” It reminded me of what Christ said to Peter, “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep.”
So this week I don’t think you will have to work very hard finding ways to apply today’s message. You don’t have to find the cure to cancer or the solution to world peace. You don’t have to solve world hunger. All you have to do is reach out to one person in need. Just find one person this week who is in need and reach out and help them. Maybe it will be a homeless person you give a hamburger to. Maybe it will be a child who needs mentoring or a friend in the hospital who needs a visit. Maybe it will be someone who is lonely who needs someone to listen to them. Whatever it is, just pick one person to help. It just may change your life.
We all know the name of Mother Theresa. Her name is synonymous with Christian love and service. Talk about a person who got what it means to follow Jesus! When she heard that there will be people dying in the streets of Calcutta because the religious community said they were untouchable, she said, “Not on my watch!” So, she built a hospital in Calcutta and loved and cared for the poor and outcast. She went out into the streets to find the beaten, broken and bruised. She brought them to the hospital where they could be cared for, rocked, prayed for and loved. Some got better and some died in her arms.
When she won the Nobel Peace Prize, she took the money and gave it all to the poor. Why did she do it? She revealed why she did it when she was asked to speak to a group of nuns many years ago. This small woman with a big spirit arose to the podium, lifted her hands, and counting with each of her fingers spoke these ten words: “What you do for them, you also do for him.”
Look around you this week and you will find the hungry, the wounded, the weak, the lonely, the thirsty, and if you are willing to reach out to care for them you just may see the face of Christ and hear him say, “You are a true friend.” Amen.