April 3 – Matthew 25:31-46

As always, let’s start with the context. This week we’re in Matthew 25:31-46, just a couple days before Jesus’ crucifixion. Here we find Jesus at the end of what’s called the Olivet Discourse, which runs from Matthew 24:3 to 25:46 and is so named because Jesus sat down to teach his disciples on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24:3). The Olivet Discourse is highly prophetic, with Jesus talking quite a bit about what is to come in the Last Days; he starts with signs about the end of all things (24:3-14) and finishes with the final judgment, which is our passage this week.
Here Jesus tells a parable about Judgment Day, though this parable is more realistic about what it describes than something like the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus, the Son of Man and King of the Kingdom, will be seated on his throne to both rule and judge, and all people will be arrayed before him. The righteous will be separated from the unrighteous, and the defining characteristic that distinguishes the two won’t be their knowledge of the Bible, their church attendance, or even their theology (though in a way, it is). According to Jesus here, the defining characteristic of a true child of God is how well they care for others.

And this isn’t merely money given to a charity or clothes donated to a shelter (though those things are by no means bad). This is “love your neighbor as yourself” at work, a love that flows out of a heart that has been transformed by the love of God and bubbles up into good works like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked (i.e. taking care of the poor), and visiting the sick and those in prison.

Now, like we saw last week, we might get a little cagey talking about good works for fear of implying that salvation is earned by effort rather than received by grace. But we shouldn’t shy away from the conversation, particularly because the Bible is clear on the subject: salvation can’t be earned, it can only be received by grace (Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 2:15-16; Rom. 3:20). For instance, in Acts 2 a crowd of folks are convicted for having rejected Jesus and ask the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” To this Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”(Acts 2:37-38) Repentance and faith are necessary to partake in the salvation Jesus offers us; merely being kind to those in need is insufficient.

But Jesus doesn’t describe the necessity of charity here at the exclusion of repentance or faith; all three are native to the culture of Jesus’ kingdom and its citizens. That being said, we shouldn’t miss Jesus’ big emphasis here: love and good works are part and parcel of saving faith, an inevitable, characteristic practice of a citizen of Jesus’ Kingdom (see the passage intro from last week for more on the distinction between necessary to and necessary for). Faith without works is dead just as works without faith is dead (James 2:17). If your faith does not produce the kinds of actions that Jesus lists in verses 35-36, and produce the love behind those actions, then your faith doesn’t seem to be operating by the Kingdom principles laid out here.

So we really should pay attention to Jesus’ main point here and ask ourselves, “When I look at how I love others, do I seem like a sheep or a goat?” We should reflect on areas we all need to grow in loving our neighbor as ourselves since this is clearly a high priority to Jesus, which makes sense for someone who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others (Matt. 20:28). In fact, he values this so much that he considers kindness towards the lowly and forgotten of the world as kindness towards himself. Imagine how this practice could transform us, if when putting food in someone’s hand or visiting someone in the hospital we could look in their face and know that Jesus considers this a kindness done to him, that in some way Jesus himself receives the food or enjoys our company. Imagine how that could multiply our love for others. And imagine how our upside-down value system of prioritizing the lowly would reflect the distinctions of Jesus’ kingdom to the watching world.
Questions for Discussion
• Could someone read Matthew 25:31-46 for us?

• What stood out to you in this passage?

• How can this passage help us understand what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven?

• Why do you think Jesus values loving and caring for others so much?

• Look at verse 40—what would it be like to serve others knowing that you are serving Jesus himself?

• When it comes to loving and caring for others, what’s a specific area you know you’ve neglected or you know you need to grow in?

• How can Jesus himself empower us to live according to this passage?