In reading through the Bible, I have found that this Bible reading from the Gospel of Matthew to be one of the most compelling and powerful texts in the entire Bible.
Reading this text from Matthew is like jumping into icy waters on a cold winter day.
This Bible reading wakes us up and challenges us to understand what God requires of us.
In this reading we are given a glimpse into a future scene of salvation and of judgment.
Picture with me now this future day in God’s kingdom.
Jesus is with his angels and he is sitting on his throne.
His glory fills him and surrounds him.
All the nations of the world are gathered there before Jesus’ throne.
And then Jesus begins to separate people just as a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats.
Just like in the book of Ezekiel Jesus uses the metaphor of sheep and goats being separated.
In Ezekiel chapter thirty-four verse seventeen we hear: “As for you my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats.”
Here in Matthew the sheep go to his right hand and the goats go to his left.
Then Jesus will say to those on his right, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Now at this point we need to pause here and ask the question, “Why are those people blessed by God?”
As we ask this question to ourselves Jesus continues by naming that the sheep are the ones that seek him.
How do they seek him?
They seek him by reaching out to those who are in need.
Then Jesus says to those who are on his left, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Why we ask are the people on his left cursed?
In the text it is because they did not seek the Lord by reaching out to the least of these or we might say here those people who are in some kind of great need – the least of these.
In this Bible reading judgment lies in how we treat others.
At this point we may confuse this Bible reading with works righteousness meaning that we are saved by our good deeds.
But I do not believe that is what is happening here.
The righteous ones reach out to those who are in need not because they believe that is the way to be saved but rather because that is what they do.
Notice how the righteous do not even understand that they are actually meeting Jesus when they reach out to those who are in need.
They question Jesus at verse thirty-seven, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?”
Continuing here at verse thirty-eight and thirty-nine we hear, “And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing.
And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?
OK, let’s stop here.
Do you see what is happening?
The righteous do not know that their good deeds are being done for Jesus.
They do not know that their good deeds are a sign that they are the ones who are saved.
When Jesus truly comes into a person’s heart that person is a changed person.
A person who follows Jesus lives differently in the world.
Let me say that again here, a person who follows Jesus lives differently in the world.
They live differently because they have been given grace and grace changes a person.
Reaching out to others becomes a natural response.
It becomes a way to know God and a way to seek his presence.
In the Bible to seek God’s presence means to seek God’s face.
How do we seek God’s face?
In this Bible reading it is by seeking the face of those who are in need.
And by doing so we are actually seeking Jesus’ face.
As I was thinking about this Bible reading this past week, I thought about those who might be in some kind of need right now at this uncertain time of the pandemic.
And what came to my mind are those people who are struggling with their mental health and those who are in need of love and care.
The pandemic has certainly made it worse for those who already are struggling in life.
I think at this time maybe more so than ever before the need to lift up and to encourage those who are struggling is what Jesus is calling us to do.
At this critical time this is who we are to seek the Lord’s presence.
This past week at our church council meeting one of our council members gave an excellent devotion on the importance of being an encourager.
I gave his devotion a lot of thought after the meeting.
How might we be encouragers to those who are in some kind of need?
I don’t know if I can stress enough the need for us to be encouragers at this time.
For a person who is deeply struggling right now and whose mental health is in danger our outreach might do more good to raise their spirits than what we could ever imagine.
In the end this Bible reading is all about reaching out and serving others and not ignoring people who are in need.
You may have heard the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”
While there is some truth to this saying in that we need to take some personal responsibility, the fact remains that we are all in need of God’s grace and we all need a little encouragement from time to time.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”
God is here.
God is here in our neighbors and in the one who needs you.
Do you want to seek the Lord and see his face?
Seek out the face of just one of the least of these and you will be seeking the Lord.