“As you did it to one of the least of these…”
“Today’s Special” is from former Youth Minister Mike Atkinson, now of “Mikey’s Funnies” fame:
A young boy came to Sunday school late. His teacher knew that he was usually very prompt and asked him if anything was wrong.
The boy replied that he was going to go fishing, but his dad told him that he needed to go to church.
The teacher was very impressed and asked the boy if his dad had explained to him why it was more important to go to church than to go fishing, to which the boy replied,
“Yes, Dad said he didn’t have enough worms for both of us.”
Well, this might work in most states, but not here in New York State. Fishing season legally doesn’t begin until April 1. No fooling! And I imagine it is illegal to fish without a license, right? Who knew?
Have you ever been reading along in your Bible and suddenly you say, “Wow! I didn’t know THAT was in the Bible?” At the start of one year as I began my Bible reading schedule, I came across a verse and thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be neat if this year I make a running record of verses that we use in daily life?”. Well, of course, I can’t find that Bible. But I DO remember a few of those verses. Here goes:
“But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23)
“My bone clings to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.” (Job 19:20)
“Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” (Matthew 15:14)
“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
“Then they would have swallowed us alive, when their wrath was kindled against us…” Ps. 124:3
Isn’t that amazing? I challenge y’all the next time you hear someone – preferably someone who has indicated they have no use for the Lord – say one of these statements (or ones like these), I indeed challenge you to say this:
“WOW! I didn’t realize you knew so much Bible!”
OK – that in itself may be interesting, even closely funny. But what if, what IF, someone took a whole PASSAGE of scripture and applied it to their group? You’ve never seen that happen? Well, let’s expand our insight. What if, what IF, a group – why even a well known “religious” group which is seeking your hard earned donations – used a passage of scripture to support its fund? You’ve seen many, right? But what if, what IF, a group takes a passage of scripture and uses it to show this is how JESUS works and therefore you should give to His work?
Let me first begin with a disclaimer! I am in no way negating the GREAT work that many groups do, groups that use the following passage as their theme. But it IS possible that no one in that group ever sought the foundation of this passage.
Let’s look at a most overused passage. I encourage you to read for yourselves Matthew 25:31-46. In particular, let’s look at verses 34-36, often used by groups seeking our funds:
“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’”
Of course, the “righteous” will question the King’s amazing assessment of them. They wisely ask, in verses 37-39:
“‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’”
These are good questions! These are soul searching questions which perhaps each of us should ask ourselves? One offshoot of this passage is that each one of us should search our souls as to the motive, the true motive, of all that we do “in Jesus’ Name”. Do we truly do it for Jesus’ sake, and not care who sees or who gets the glory? Good questions!
Then the Savior answers, as our message title shows in verse 40:
“‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”
So far so good.
But is it possible, is it POSSIBLE, that the purpose of this passage is NOT Jesus’ desire that all humanity consider how they treat each other? Is it possible, is it POSSIBLE, that the disciple Matthew is recording tender words that the Lord Jesus wants a certain group in particular to observe?
In order to answer these questions – and more – we have to ask ourselves oh Bible scholars, “What is the key word(s) in this phrase?”. And the answer is…”My brethren” in verse 40, “as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren”.
Hello! WHO are Jesus’ “brethren”? You bet, the Jewish nation. Jesus was Jewish! Remember John 1:12, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him…”. And yet, just before the millennial kingdom (which is more explicitly taught about in the book of Revelation), the King of kings shares that, “you did it to one of the least of My brethren.”
The prophets of the Old Testament frequently talk about the contrast between Israel and those who were not Jewish. In fact, the difference is astounding! In Old Testament times, the non-Jewish nations were in opposition to Israel. Listen to a couple of verses which may help our understanding of Matthew 25:
“I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 20:38
“Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together all around. Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O Lord. Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; For there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.” Joel 3:11-12
This is just a sampling. The prophets of old knew that one day there would be a crossroads! There would be a crossroads of nations that sought blessing upon the nation of Israel. But there would also be many nations that would seek nothing better than to destroy Israel, the brethren of our Savior.
Matthew 25 is where that crossroads comes together! Our Savior is asking those of us who are alive today a simple question: “what do you think of My brethren? Do you show Me your love, your passion, through your love for them?”
“I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
Just remember the next time you hear a well meaning group use this passage to stir up passion for their cause.
That doesn’t mean that one should NOT support them. But it does mean that you can honestly say, “I didn’t know THAT is in the Bible!” And then ask, “is that what it really means?”