Summary: Sermon series intro. Concept is borrowed from a series by Tim Cook, a fellow preacher. A study of "the least of these" and how the church can help them, accompanied by practical application for the whole church family to do together.
Intro: I know I keep saying this, but did you notice that in the Scripture we had read today, there are 2 groups? 2 – those who go into eternal life, and those who go into eternal punishment. There’s no 3rd group. And the main difference between these groups is the way they treated “the least of these.”
If Jesus says the difference between Heaven and Hell for me is the way I treat a group of people called “the least of these,” I want to know: who are they?!!! Who are “The least of these”?
George Washington Carver once said, “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.” That’s good advice for a good life. But there’s an even more specific list for me straight from the words of Jesus.
I want to especially address that today. Then, for the next 7 weeks, I want to take the CCC family into some very practical, tangible ways we can care for “the least of these.” We’ll detail who those people are, but for today, let’s do the Cliff Notes version, using Mt 25:
Most simply, they are…
1. People in need
3. Strangers. That would mean the person who’s “not from around here”; aliens.
4. Naked – now, that’s a relative term. Let’s say it’s people needing clothing of all kinds.
5. Sick, or feeble. That might include people who are old, or who have mental disease.
6. In prison. People are in prison for different reasons. We’d like to think they’re all just reasons, but that’s not true in 1st Cent. Palestine, and it’s not true in many places today.
That’s “the least of these” that Jesus gives us to consider for our situation. So I did that, and here’s what I notice about this list. The “least of these” are…
2. People the world does not regard
If you’re a worldly person, picking who’s going to be on your dodgeball team, or who you’ll hire for your company, these aren’t the people. If you’re going to have a party, these are the uninvited.
Because, when you start with a worldview that says everything came into existence by meaningless chance, your view of people in the world is shaped by that. In a world where might makes right and where the most fit survive, the ones who matter the most are the ones who contribute the most. Your thinking might be more that way than your realize.
Have you ever found yourself thinking or even saying, “Hey, I contribute a lot here. I deserve to be regarded here.” That just doesn’t fit with this scene in Matthew 25…at all. The attitude that says, “I deserve to be regarded because I contribute” is the same attitude that thinks, “Those who don’t contribute don’t count.”
Isn’t it interesting, in this Scripture, Jesus identifies these people by what they need, not by what they might give?
It isn’t a brand new problem, but it’s a problem in our nation and nations around the world: the least of these are slighted. The smallest of children, yet to be born, aren’t even granted human status in the rhetoric of the media. Then, around the world, little children are trafficked and used as a commodity. The handicapped and the elderly are often cast aside. The poor are denied justice. In India, where nearly 1/5 of the world lives, there is a system you’re born into – the caste system - that presets your place in society for the rest of your life. The people on the low end will just have to stay there, because that’s how they were born.
In Jesus’ economy, your worth doesn’t come from what I can get from you, or even what He can get from you. Think about it: what does anyone bring to Jesus that He needs?
Oh, there are some things that people do that God values and wants from us, but what we often hear and see from Him is a special care for those who are the greatest in need.
James 1:27 (NASB)
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Being the Kingdom of God means we swim against the current of our culture. Our culture says that the least of these are people who have less value.
We can take our cues from the world and think less of these people, or we can listen to Jesus here and realize they are…
3. People Jesus wants us to value