The Jesus Habit: Daily Devotional
Hosted by David Lindner
To set the stage for our final devotional on the topic of Hell, I’d like to read a parable that Jesus shared just before He would go to the cross. Matthew’s account of Jesus has this as the last parable Jesus shared before the events of Jesus’ arrest would take place.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 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. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “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. 35 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, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
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.’
41 “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. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “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.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
This is one of the more popular parables of Jesus. The phrase: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these you did for me” has become so popular and overused that we probably tend to gloss over at the reading of this story.
We tell ourselves, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it.” But then we ask, “What’s next? This idea is nice and all, but what about the deeper things God has for us, can we get to those?”
If you’re anything like me, this parable isn’t as simple as it sounds. Because I wrestle with whether or not it’s good to help everyone in this way. I mean, is it good to give food to the homeless man or woman who is addicted to drugs, helping them stay addicted? Is it good to invite someone into your house who may take advantage of you or who may be a threat to the safety of your family?
The call of Jesus in these verses has died a death of a thousand qualifications in our time. Certainly, Jesus didn’t mean to do that in “this” situation. I mean, the poorest people in America have it quite a bit better than the poor people in India, so, let’s just send them our money to help the poor there.
It would be easy to glide over this passage in a discussion about hell, but this seems to be a big enough issue to Jesus that it’s what He uses to separate the “sheep from the goats.” Of course, belief in Jesus is critical. You can’t do away with that. But, look at the way Jesus treats those who cared for the “least of these” and those who didn’t.
Those who cared Jesus says: “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” To those who didn’t care, Jesus says: ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
It would be easy to focus on this verse alone and make the entire gospel about helping the poor. In fact, many have used this verse to do just that. We aren’t going to do that. But, neither can we do the opposite. We can’t minimize it and claim that Jesus wouldn’t deny someone entrance into His kingdom if they don’t help the least of these.
But, then we have a problem, because that’s what Jesus said. One gets the kingdom prepared since the creation of the world, the other gets the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Why? Why is this such a big deal to Jesus?
One note, we do see the typical picture of Hell here. The same is true in one of Jesus’ other teachings about Hell in Luke 16. As unpopular as it may be and as much as it has been made fun of, it does seem that fire and torment is a part of Hell. It’s not a party. It’s not just the absence of joy, love, and peace. It’s the complete absence of anything good, including being able to not suffer. When we get sick we often get mad at God not even realizing that the sickness is a result of our choice to rebel against God and all the other good days when we’re well are His gifts.
But, I don’t have an exact answer as to why this is such a big deal to Jesus. However, I do have a theory.
Since God is good and everything about Him is goodness, when He rescues one of us from death and brings us into life, he doesn’t just want us to sit on the gift, he wants us to become His ambassadors of good. And, if we don’t become the kind of people that pour out God’s love onto the people we see around us who are hurting, then the question has to be asked: “Have we really been changed at all?”
“That’s kind of harsh, are you sure you want to have said that?” No, not really. I don’t want to have said that, but I think that’s the case here. Why? Because in a very real sense, we were the ones that were hungry and Jesus gave us his flesh to eat, we were the ones who were thirsty and Jesus gave us springs of eternal life welling up within our soul. We were the ones who were strangers to God, outside the Kingdom, completely separate and God welcomed us in. We were the ones that were naked and ashamed of our nakedness, hiding under some fig leaves in the garden. We were the ones who were suffering under the sickness of the curse and we were in prison and Jesus came into the prison and set us from within.
So, maybe this isn’t as much about whether or not it’s the right thing to to do help people. Maybe this isn’t about being legalistic in helping either. Maybe this simply about whether or not our nature has been transformed from selfish to good, from death to life. If our very nature has been transformed we will follow Jesus in ministering to the least of these. If it hasn’t, we’ll hoard all his goodness to ourselves. And while those who need our help but never get it to seem to be experiencing hell on earth, Jesus seems to imply that they are more likely to enter into His kingdom than those who hoard His resources. (Luke 16). And while we enjoy the benefits of God’s goodness on earth, we may end up being the ones who experience an even worse kind of hell than any living person has ever known.
Has God so changed our hearts that we can’t not help the least of these? Or does God have some work to do on us so that we are less possessed by our possessions and more consumed with God’s goodness?