Good morning and welcome to our final Foundations podcast this week. It’s been an absolute joy to bring some reflections from the scriptures over these past few days. Know that we love you all wonderful church family and are praying for you today.
Today’s passage is Matthew 25: 31-46. Let’s focus today on verse 40: “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.’
All week we’ve been poring over this teaching Jesus offers his disciples here – it’s complex, challenging and in places difficult to read but what does this mean for us today, right now in Lockdown 2.0, here in this amazing city of Sheffield. Today’s powerful passage, which in a sense ties together everything we’ve reflected on already this week, reminds us that in midst of a broken and hurting world, we are to live as a people who are marked by grace.
What we have in today’s reading is perhaps some of Jesus’ clearest and most challenging teaching on how we are to seek after justice – giving people what they deserve… and why it matters so greatly to God. In today’s passage, Jesus compares final judgement to the, at that time, common task of shepherds who had to identify and remove the goats from their flock. Rather disturbingly, on that day Jesus teaches, there will be many who claim to have believed in Him who ultimately will be rejected, the goats. And that His true sheep will be identified as those who have a heart for those in need.
It’s an incredibly challenging passage to reflect on for a number of reasons. Firstly, what Jesus is depicting here is a picture of God’s kingdom and how its citizens are to live. Presented in today’s reading is a staggeringly comprehensive list of how we are to live as disciples. Giving food or drink to the hungry – we might see this as providing emergency relief to those affected by disaster or war. The stranger – effectively the immigrants and refugees of our society being welcomed into friendship and community. The naked, an example would be the homeless, being clothed and provided for. The sick being cared for and the prisoners visited. This is the kind of community Jesus says that his true disciples will establish.
On Sunday we heard our interim leader Tom speak from the book of Jeremiah and how we are to ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city’ God has called us to. If we ever needed a reminder of what this might look like…today’s passage paints a very compelling and beautiful picture of that. As I reflected on Jesus’ words here, I pictured one of my friends going into prisons to connect with young offenders. I pictured another member of our church family working with young people in crisis at an inclusion centre. I pictured countless members of our church community working for the NHS treating and caring for the sick. I pictured the Foodbank team providing generously gifted food for those who are hungry. One should never start a list! This is just a snapshot of the church and what’s happening. And then beyond us at STC there are other churches, other disciples – many of whom we don’t see or know about – who either through their work or through voluntary projects are seeking to care for those most in need. Today we thank God for them and we pray for them.
But perhaps, the most powerful reminder this passage brings us is that, yes, we are to be a people who look out but first we must look in. Why? In verse 40, Jesus tells us that ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ You did for me…that’s the key phrase. Jesus is saying here…our attitude towards people in need ultimately reflects our attitude towards God. Whatever we do for those who are struggling, we do it for Christ.
We could easily look at this passage and think… If I’m honest – I don’t feel like I stack up here God. I look at what’s depicted and think…Is this really evident in the way I’m living my life right now? Whilst we can’t not see that from today’s passage, I feel the deeper message is that Jesus is saying, ‘First, look in.’ ‘Look at your heart’. Because the reality of the Gospel is that before each of us met with Jesus we were in effect outsiders looking in, prisoners to sin, naked before God, sick and destitute, spiritually in a state of poverty. We all didn’t stack up!
Jesus’ words here describe judgement, yes, but in the same breath also grace. Through the cross, the place where God’s grace and justice perfectly meet – we remember that we’ve been welcomed in to His heavenly family. We’ve been clothed with the garment of salvation. We’ve been set free from the weight of our sin. We’ve been filled with the living water of the Spirit.
When we come to discover again the truth that the Gospel flips justice on its head, that we receive from God that which we don’t deserve – communities like the one depicted in this passage don’t become a rod to beat ourselves with but the marker of a heart, of a people who are truly embracing and living in the grace of God.
Yes, this might well look like our vocation, our work and how this outworks itself. I’m a journey with God exploring that right now. But do you know…it’s the simple everyday choices we make to sacrificially place others’ needs over our own. It’s stopping to speak to the homeless person. It’s donating to our local Foodbank. It’s pushing a care package through a sick student household’s letter box. Visiting or phoning an elderly relative or neighbour stuck at home.
The question this passage really poses is not how far short are we falling here God…but how much of your grace is entering into and changing our hearts?
Lord, where we once deserved punishment, you’ve shown us your unfathomable grace. Jesus may the power of the cross, of your love for each of us penetrate deep into our hearts today. Lord, in this season may we become more and more a people, a community, a movement, a church where we, as the scriptures prophesy, ‘let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-ending stream!’ Amen.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 25:31-46
‘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.
‘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. 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 ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
‘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 ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
‘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.”
‘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. 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 ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”
‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”
‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’