Jesus As Judge

Jesus as Judge
As You Did To The Least Of These…

Doubter’s Guide Blog | Jesus as Judge
by Jon Wood

 As You Did To The Least Of These…

What do you think of when you think of serving the Lord? Many think of mission trips, volunteering at church, or giving money. Some may think in terms of vocation…maybe as pastors or missionaries. But serving the Lord can look very different than what we expect. It can look mundane, unimpressive or even dirty, and that’s exactly how the Lord designed it.

Matthew 25:34-40 is a good example of this. As He was concluding His public ministry shortly before He died, Jesus taught about the final judgment. In His sermon, those who showed kindness to the outcasts of society and disenfranchised were rewarded and those who remained ambivalent to suffering around them were rejected.

At first glance, we might look at this passage and deduce that good works merit salvation and the absence of good works bring damnation. We might also look at these verses and think that we have a prescriptive list of things to do. Let’s briefly examine both of these ideas to better understand what Jesus said.

Did Jesus Tell Us That Works Save Us?

In short, no. Verses 33 and 34 make it impossible for this passage to support a works-based salvation. First, notice in verse 33 that at the final judgement all the peoples of the earth are separated as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. This language is common both in the Old Testament and in the Four Gospels, referring to those who belong to God and those who don’t. In Scripture, God’s people are never referred to as goats and are always likened to sheep. Here in Matthew 25, those who belong to God are the sheep and those who don’t are the goats. Everything Jesus says through verse 40 then, He says to the sheep, so we know He’s referring to people who already belong to God rather than those who need to earn His favor.

Verse 34 is even more clear. Jesus says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom…” We need to notice two things here. First, the sheep are blessed by the Father. That blessing is the basis of their being sheep. Sheep are sheep only because the Father has blessed them and made them sheep. Not because of their works or because they’ve earned it, but only because the Father has blessed them. Second, notice the Kingdom is the sheep’s inheritance. Inheritances aren’t earned. We don’t work for them. They’re bestowed by the good graces of the executor. As such, the Kingdom of God is the inheritance the Father gives to His children, His sheep.

With those understandings in place, some significant theological gymnastics are needed to say that the good deeds Jesus describes in verses 35-36 will grant us entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Did Jesus Give Us A Prescription For Good Works?

Again, no. A good rule of thumb when we encounter actions or practices laid out for us in the Bible is to ask whether or not that action or practice is descriptive or prescriptive. For example, we might look at the account of Sampson and see that he had great strength because of his long hair. If we want to have great strength, we too should grow our hair long. Why that’s wrong is a topic for another time but suffice it to say, the length of Sampson’s hair is descriptive rather than prescriptive when it comes to our own physical strength.

Conversely, when Paul tells us in Romans 10:9 that we’ll be saved if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead is most certainly prescriptive. Paul is literally telling us the steps we must take to be saved…confession, repentance and faith in Jesus.

With the descriptive/prescriptive framework in mind and the fact that we’ve already established Jesus is speaking to God’s people (sheep) who have inherited the Kingdom because of God’s gracious blessing, we can confidently say that all of the good deeds Jesus describes in verses 35-36 are descriptive. These are good deeds that characterize one who will inherit the Kingdom, but not good deeds that earn the Kingdom. Additionally, we have support from many other Scriptures that salvation and justification don’t come by works.

So then, what are we to make of this passage?

Since we’ve seen that the good works Jesus rewards in Matthew 25:34-40 are descriptive, the best way to understand this passage is to think about these deeds as the evidence that a person is one of God’s people (a sheep and not a goat).

This concept is very much like the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Those practices are not how we are saved, they’re evidence that we have been saved. In Matthew 25, Jesus isn’t giving us a prescriptive list of imperatives that we must do. Rather, He’s telling us that things of this sort, caring for the poor, the sick, the outcast, the forgotten are things that God’s people do…because they are God’s people. These practices aren’t how we have an inheritance from God, but show that we have an inheritance from God. It’s interesting too that the righteous (sheep) in this passage don’t even recognize their good deeds were done as unto Jesus Himself. They were just going about the everyday business of living out their Christian lives and caring for those around them.

Now, think back to the initial question about serving the Lord. Noting in the list of good deeds here is flashy, cool, fun or prestigious. It’s actually fairly mundane, unglamorous and usually unnoticed work. It can even be extraordinarily messy. In his book The Church at the End of the 20th Century, Francis Schaeffer describes life at his home in Switzerland known as L’Abri that he and his wife Edith opened up to marginalized, drug addicted people with nowhere else to go:

“In about the first three years at L’Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. Indeed, once a whole curtain almost burned up from somebody smoking in our living room…drugs came to our place. People vomited in our rooms…which was our home…And there is no place in God’s world where there are no people who will come and share a home as long as it is a real home.”

While the Lord may not be calling us to re-create L’Abri, Jesus counts unglamorous work like this as worship to Himself. He sees us. He notices. And Jesus, our Righteous Judge rewards us accordingly. We don’t have to become a pastor, missionary, go around the world or empty our bank accounts to serve the Lord. None of those are bad things and if the Lord calls you to that, do it! But serving the Lord looks like Matthew 25:34-40. We simply remain open to Him and offer our humble service as acts of worship to our King. We rest in our security as sheep with an inheritance because of God’s blessing, then we serve Him by serving others…both the reputable and the marginalized. And the Lord uses it for His glory and our joy.

What a privilege to serve like that. Let’s get after it!