Sunday, July 6, 2014

Caring For Jesus

Matthew 25: 35–40

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by 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 welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

The “least of these” refers to those in a variety of needy situations. They include the hungry, thirsty, poor, sick, and imprisoned. In this context, Jesus is speaking to those on His right, that is, the righteous. The needy are called Christ’s “brothers”; thus, the reference is to the righteous helping fellow believers. Jesus said that those who cared for such individuals were not merely serving other people. They were serving Him.

In the same passage, the opposite is also noted. The narrative concludes with Jesus condemning those who saw those in need and yet did not help. He says,

“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

Jesus connected service to the needy with eternal rewards and punishments. We know we are saved by faith alone and not of good works but when we are saved we should be eager, or zealous, to show our faith by the works that we do.

 (Ephesians 2:8–9), For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works,  so that no one can boast.
God has always shown a special concern for the poor and needy.
(Psalm 35:10). 10  All my bones shall say,“O Lord, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

 It should come as no surprise that He expects His followers to do the same, especially toward those of the family of God.

 (Galatians 6:10). 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Did you catch that? As we have opportunity let us do good to everyone. We need to be looking for opportunities to bless others and help them. Two people can see a need but only one will go out to try to help, that person is ministering to Christ Himself by meeting the need. That person is doing what Jesus said to do and in so doing is giving a testimony that their faith is real.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples by the love you have towards one another. John 13:35

Jesus said in Luke 6: 46 "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? We are to be about the Father’s business, not just when it’s convenient, but always. Jesus told us to take care of others but we live in a world that has taught us to only take care of number one, meaning ourselves. This is not pleasing to God.

Jesus’ words are very plain and He has made it simple for us to understand what He expects of us. We are to see to the needs of others and when we do we are ministering to Him.

If every Christian would follow the words of Jesus in caring for those in need what a difference we could make in this world. Instead, sometimes, we fall into the trap of judging those in need. We say things like ‘well they brought it on themselves’ or ‘it serves them right’ and we look down on those we should be helping. We need to leave the judging up to Christ and just keep things simple on our end. If we see a need, meet it with God’s help.

God will make you aware of the needs He wants you to meet. He will help you meet that need and all we have to be is willing. Sometimes meeting a need will take us far outside our comfort zone, but we have to be willing to go there because Jesus asked us to. We are His hands and His feet to this world and the world is watching to see if our faith is real.

It’s great to call ourselves Christians but we have to show the world that we are. They want to know if our words line up with our actions or are we all talk and no show? Maybe you’re wondering where to start. The first thing we need to do is to ask God’s forgiveness for turning a blind eye to those in need and ask Him to make us aware of the needs that need to be met. Ask Him to give you opportunities to serve Him by serving others.

Jesus said to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all men” Mark 16:15 and “you will be witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the world” Acts 1:8. The way that He lists those places is by no accident. He starts with Jerusalem, the place where you are now, your own neighbourhood. In many places people don’t even know the names of their neighbours let alone if they have a need. But start there. Then go out to the surrounding areas and then to the far off places in the world.

I am so proud of our WM ladies. Every month we take up two offerings. One for the general fund for church projects and one for local missions needs. When we see a need in our community we raise the money and go out and meet the need to the best of our ability with God’s help. It’s great to help those in other lands, and we should, because Jesus told us to, but we also have to help those right here at home too.

Not all needs are physical, some are but some aren’t. Let’s go back to our text in Matthew 25. Jesus said “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

The first group of people He mentions are those who are hungry. We are to provide food for those in need and that is not just helping those in Africa, although they need it, but it is helping here in our own community as well. There are children in our own schools who cannot afford the lunch program. There are kids who go to bed hungry. We have a need here.

When we were pastoring our first church we had a Wednesday night Kids Club, like we do here. We always provided a snack for the kids just before they went home, at the end of the evening. On one particular Wednesday night George came to me. George was a ten year old boy who had a younger sister and brother, Tracey and Michael. They were the kids who had mismatched clothes and their hair always needed a good brushing. They were good kids and took care of each other.

Well, on this night George came and asked me when the snack time was. I thought this was odd because he never had before so I said “George you know when snack time is, after craft time at the end of the night.” He said ‘ok’ and went back to his classroom. It wasn’t long afterward when he asked again. This time I clued in and asked him to come out of the classroom and talk with me.

After asking him why he wanted the snack so much tonight he told me he was hungry. I figured it was just a case of a growing boy needing to eat all time but it wasn’t. I asked him what he had for supper and he told me 14 fruit loops. I thought he was joking but he wasn’t. He told me it was 14 for sure because he had counted them out for himself and his brother and sister.

They had shared a sandwich for lunch and 14 fruit loops were their supper.

Needless to say by this time I am fighting back the tears. I quickly got the other two kids from their classrooms and took all three children to our snack ladies in the kitchen. When I told these grandmothers the story, you should have heard the commotion. We always had a supply of hotdogs in the freezer so they were quickly brought out and George and his siblings were well fed that night. For one night they didn’t go to bed hungry. We have hungry people all around us. We need to ask the Lord to reveal the needs to us so we can serve Him by helping others.

 The second group He mentions are those who are thirsty. When I was in Africa I learned that Kenyan women have to walk an average of 6 kilometers every day, sometimes several times a day, just to get water. I don’t think we truly understand thirst around here, but there are places in the world where they would love to have one of our good wells. There are several missions organizations who are reputable and who put wells in villages that need them, not only in Africa but in India and other parts of the world.

In many places it is the women who must carry the water back to the home. When a girl has to walk that far every day, several times, just to get water, it often means she cannot go to school. By us helping to build wells or to provide a donkey which can carry the needed water for the whole day in one trip, we are not only helping those who are thirsty but those who are thirsty for knowledge as well.

The third group Jesus mentions are those who are a strangers. He said “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” There are all sorts of opportunities for us to be kind to strangers. Anyone we have never met before falls into the category of ‘stranger’. Once we meet them and learn who they are, they are no longer a stranger. Whether it’s someone we meet on a missions trip or it’s someone new coming to our church, we need to show them the love of Christ.

I once read a story of a pastor who had just been appointed to a new church. On the week before his first official Sunday there, he went to the church dressed as a homeless man. His hair was dirty and his clothes were torn and filthy. He let his beard grow and he looked the part he was playing. He entered the church and sat down near the front.

No one greeted him and several people quietly moved further away from sitting near him. It wasn’t long before an usher came and told him that he would probably be more comfortable sitting in the back. When the service was over, the man made his way out of the church. No one spoke to him and many made it obvious, by their upturned noses and sideways glances, that he was not welcome in their church.

On the next Sunday the pastor dressed in a suit and clean shaven stood behind the pulpit and preached a sermon from our text today. Then he asked how many had seen the homeless man in their congregation last week. Many people raised their hands. Then he asked them if any of them had greeted him or offered him a meal or new clothes. Several hung their heads in shame. Then he revealed that the homeless man was actually him in disguise. Many repented that day and determined in their hearts to show the love of Christ to everyone they met.

The Word tells us that sometimes we “entertain angels unaware”. Hebrews 13:2 “Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!  What if that needy person God puts in our path is actually an angel and God is testing us to see if we will follow out His word? What if God is giving us an opportunity to show that we are not just a Christian in word but in action as well?

The fourth group of people are those who are in need of clothing. This might not seem like a need in our community but it is. Clothing is expensive and for some, even clothing from Frenchy’s is beyond their means. Several years ago I was standing in a Frenchy’s when I overheard a young mother tell her daughter that she could only have one t-shirt because she needed to buy groceries. I wouldn’t have been overly concerned except that the child was wearing a torn and dirty t-shirt and looked like she desperately needed new clothes.

 I would like to say that I generously bought the child new clothes but I didn’t. It was an opportunity that I let pass. I told myself that I should just mind my own business and I turned away. I’m not proud of my failure and I would like to think that I would handle a situation like that differently if I was ever in that position again. I failed and I repented, but I have never forgotten that day.

Because I felt convicted I began a free clothing ministry in our church where every Tuesday I would give clothes away to those who needed them. Everyone told me that it would never get off the ground, after all we lived in a town that had three Frenchy’s and a Salvation Army store but it did succeed. As fast as we could give the clothes away, more would come in. There is a need and when God shows you what that need is, its up to us to do something about it.

We can all do our part in helping those who need clothing. We can all go through our closets every six months to a year and see what we haven’t worn. Anything that you haven’t worn in that period of time can be donated to the Salvation Army or Good Will or given to those around you who you think could be blessed by them.

Not every child gets a new outfit to start school in. If we know of a family in need we should try to meet that need by providing new clothes. Think of how a child’s self-esteem would be boosted if they could start school with a new outfit like the rest of the kids. This is showing the love of Christ. This is serving Christ.

The fifth group are those who are sick. We are told to visit them. This might seem like a simple thing to do but many people will not go into a hospital to visit someone.  Jesus said for us to do it so we have to overcome our fears and do it. Here are a few tips for when you visit someone who is sick: keep your visit short. They are recuperating and need their rest. Don’t sit on the bed or talk about all of your ailments. Don’t gossip and always pray before you leave.  If you have never visited the sick the first few times you do you may feel uncomfortable but as you do it, it will become easier. Just remember as you are ministering to them you are serving Christ.

The last group Jesus mentioned are those who are in prison. We are to visit those who are in prison and bring them encouragement. We are to give them hope. John Thompson is a friend of ours who lives in Pubnico. He has headed up a prison ministry for over 10 years to those who are in jail in Yarmouth. Every week he does a Bible study for the inmates and he has seen several over the years come to know Christ as their personal Saviour.

Prison ministry is vital for our society and a way to minister to Christ. But there are other prisons that people find themselves in that don’t have bars to keep them locked inside. There are prisons of drugs and abuse and poverty that we can all help free people from. We can tell them of the hope we have in Christ. Only Christ can set the captive free.

We may not know all of the needs people have but their need of a Saviour is the most important need there is. We can all witness to those around us. People need hope and we have that hope because of Christ. It’s time we shared that hope with the world.

Jesus said in the last part of our text: “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

I don’t want to be part of this last group. I don’t want to be standing in front of Christ some day and have Him say those words and I know you don’t either. So let’s pray and ask Him to make us more aware of the needs around us and help us to have the boldness to go out and meet those needs. Amen. 

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