Years ago, a Missouri congregation listened to a young preacher who had walked twenty miles to deliver the sermon. Tired and hungry, the young preacher failed miserably. The people were unresponsive; they didn?t know he had walked the long weary miles to teach God?s Word. When the service was over no one offered him food or a place to rest, but as he started down the long road home with a broken heart, the black janitor of the all white church asked him to share his lunch with him in a nearby shed.

Years passed. God had plans for the young preacher who had failed so miserably and he became Bishop Marvin of world-wide acclaim. After many years, the man once more stood in the same spot to dedicate a great country church. The whole community was assembled. It was a tremendous event in the life of the community. When the service ended, many crowded around offering compliment after compliment, but the Bishop waved them all aside and found his old friend, the janitor who was now an old man. He said, ?When I was here years ago I was dejected and depressed and you offered me your friendship. I have never forgotten that moment. Today I want to spend my time with you.?

This story, which is true, gives us a modern-day picture of the Scripture we will study for today. It was not what the congregation did that crushed the young man?s heart, but rather it was the simple fact that they didn?t even take time to respond with sympathy, encouragement, or compassion. I am sure that the people of the congregation had good intentions in mind when they withheld some of the comments they were thinking ? I mean really, they could have just blasted the young preacher because he knew as well as they did how badly he had stunk up the place on that Sunday morning. The good intentions of the people left a young preacher broken-hearted, feeling rejected, and somewhat angry with the people for the way in which they failed to respond. I am sure on the day in which Bishop Marvin returned to the site of that place many years later the old janitor probably did not even remember the kindness he had shown so long ago. The surprise that the janitor must have felt, we also see evident in the parable Jesus told when He gathered the sheep on His right hand and they responded by saying, ?But Lord when did we see You hungry or thirsty or naked or in prison??? Let?s read together the parable I have just mentioned which is found in Matthew 25:31-46.

31?When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All 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. 33He 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. 35For 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, 36I 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? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?? 40?The King will reply, ?I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers 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. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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, ?I tell you the truth, 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.? (Matthew 25:31-46 NIV)

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is found only in Matthew?s Gospel and it shines a light on some of Jesus? deepest and most powerful teaching. In the parable, Jesus gives us a picture of the final judgment in which all the people of the world will be judged. The judgment that all of us will face will be the same?the sheep and the goats are brought before Him. What is the standard that Jesus shares with us in Matthew 25? It is the standard of loving the least of these.

The love that stands the test of time is not simply a humanitarian spirit that seeks to meet the needs of hurting people because we are all good hearted folks who don?t like to see folks hurting. I strongly believe that love which is solely based upon our love for people will never last. We are not people who do things simply for the sake of helping others with no strings attached. We might start out making a bold new commitment to furthering humanity by helping out those in need, but before long we want our strokes and we want to be noticed for our great effort. We want to be appreciated for our efforts. If others, who we help, abuse us then we quickly give up our campaign to change the world.

The type of love that will enable us to be sided with the sheep in the final exam only comes from allowing the King to do His work through us. Our commitment to Him, as Lord of our life, can give us the love and commitment to see Him in the least of these that we meet on the street, in the office, and in our neighborhoods each and every day. The same model for ministry that we see here is prominent in Jesus? teaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan that we studied two weeks ago. The Samaritan stopped to help a man who had been beaten by thieves. The Samaritan gave selflessly of himself and didn?t expect anything in return. The people that Jesus calls ?sheep,? and the Samaritan, ministered to those they came into contact with without ever stopping to make sure they got their ?due? for their great acts of service. They were not performing conscious religious acts calculated to be good, to please God, or to gain a reward. They were spontaneous acts, they saw a need and they met the need. It was their normal response to people who were in need.

Let?s take a closer look at the Scripture and the significance it has for us today. In verses 31-33, Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man to judge the people of all nations as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Jesus does not specifically identify Himself as ?the Son of Man? or ?the King? in verse 34, but there is no doubt that the One who was rejected, mocked, and finally hung on a cross will return with majesty and splendor to judge the people of the world.

In verses 34-40 we find the King addressing those on His right, those He calls ?sheep.? He tells them that because they fed the hungry, gave drink to those who were thirsty, invited in strangers, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned they will inherit eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Those on the right are shocked! They say, ?Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or in prison and take care of You?? Jesus tells them that whenever they responded to the needs of one of the least of His children, they had responded to Him.

?Oh, Lord, you mean that old man I visited in the night shelter whose feet were swollen and infested with disease — that was you? The man I met at the food pantry who lost his wife and kids when he went to jail for dealing drugs? Lord, I had no idea! That was you Lord? Lord, you mean that woman who has been without work for a year and was living in her car with her children ? that was you? Why, I never dreamed that she could have been anybody important! She sure didn?t look like any picture of you that I have ever seen Lord! Jesus, surely you don?t mean that the old lady at the nursing home who calls me by her son?s name every time I go to visit my grandmother. I can?t imagine! I never dreamed! Lord, I had no idea that you were ever in prison, or hungry, or naked, or feeling lonely. I never dreamed all of those people were really you Lord!? And Jesus said, ?IN AS MUCH AS YOU HAVE DONE IT UNTO THE LEAST OF THESE, YOU HAVE DONE IT UNTO ME!?

Isn?t it incredible? Jesus says in serving the lonely, the outcasts, the hurting, and insignificant of society we are serving Him. What kind of person is it that selflessly responds to the needs of individuals with no ulterior motive? Only a person who has their eyes focused on the One who first lived this kind of life and who has as their number one priority in life to live the servant lifestyle Jesus has called His followers to live. I believe this is the only way we can live a life of pure service without sooner or later developing twisted and distorted motives for service. It is more than a possibility that those who start off caring for others can easily lose their focus. When this happens their motives become twisted and ungodly. Their motives can become so twisted that their goal becomes to help themselves. When this happens there may be great acts of service carried out, but there will always be ?self? at the center of that activity.

The other side of the coin is that there are many people who sincerely reach out to others from the right motives and are taken advantage of by the individual that they are helping. My word for you is don?t let those in this world who are out to use you destroy the love that Jesus has placed in your heart for His children. Acts of kindness done in love are never done in vain. There is an old song that best illustrates this point that I would like to get across to you this morning. The song is called, ?Never For Nothing,? and I believe the lyrics speak for themselves.

YOU CRIED ALONE BY THE WINDOW
OVER THE LOVE THAT YOU LOST
YOU GAVE IT ALL
NEVER COUNTING THE COST
RAIN LIKE TEARS BEAT ON YOUR WINDOW
MELTING YOUR HEART TO THE FLOOR
NO LOVE RETURNED
AND NOW YOU HAVE LESS THAN BEFORE

NEVER FOR NOTHING
WHEN YOU LOVE WITH NO RETURN
IT?S NEVER FOR NOTHING
LIGHT YOUR CANDLE IN THE DARKNESS
CAUSE IT IS NEVER FOR NOTHING

YOUR FRIENDS SAY YOU?RE THE FOOL
FOR LOVING WITH NOTHING WITH TO GAIN
BUT THEY CAN?T SEE THE REWARD
THAT YOU?LL CLAIM
SO HOLD ON TO THE HOLY PROMISE THAT SAYS
NO LABOR OF LOVE IS IN VAIN
PRECIOUS TEARS ARE CHANGED TO JEWELS
IN THE RAIN

NEVER FOR NOTHING
WHEN YOU LOVE WITH NO RETURN
IT?S NEVER FOR NOTHING
LIGHT YOUR CANDLE IN THE DARKNESS
CAUSE IT IS NEVER FOR NOTHING

Jesus is looking for selfless service that seeks to reach out to those in need, most of all, to those who can give nothing in return. This selfless service is rooted in faith in the Risen Lord. One of the dangers that we run into when we study the parable of the sheep and the goats is that folks can easily get the idea that we are promoting salvation through what we do. Some call it ?works righteousness? and suggest that we are made right with God because of the ?good? things we do. Paul wrote to the folks in Ephesus and made it very clear that salvation is a gift from God. Paul wrote,

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV)

We who are followers of Jesus are created to do good works, but salvation is the free gift from God for those who put their faith in Jesus. Paul was consistent in his teaching. He wrote to the folks in Galatia and said,

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16 NIV)

Righteousness through works will never work. We must realize that the only righteousness you and I will ever know comes through His works and not ours. The Bible teaches in the book of Isaiah 64:6, that our greatest deeds done in our strength and tenderness of heart, are but filthy rags in God?s sight. Isaiah says,

6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)

All, not some, of our righteous acts are like filthy rags. You may think, ?Wait just a minute! What about when I do things from a pure motive?? Folks, we just don?t understand. When we are dealing in the realm of sinful humanity there is no such thing as a pure motive. You and I are tainted through and through with sin ? we are sinners to the bone. If it were possible for us to have absolutely pure motives and actions then Jesus would not have needed to go to the cross for you and me. We could just ?act? or ?think? our way into a right relationship with God. That is impossible. Jesus died so that our sin might be covered and that by faith we might trust Him to live through us. When we are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and give a drink to those who are thirsty ? we are merely allowing Jesus to act through us. This is a very important lesson for each of us to understand. If we don?t get a grasp on it then we will begin to be puffed up by our ?good? acts of service.

In verses 41-46, we find Jesus addressing those on His left who are identified as ?goats.? These folks are judged, not because they have committed murder, adultery, embezzled millions of dollars, abused children, or were addicted to drugs or alcohol. They are judged for what they have failed to do! Jesus says that if they had only known it was Him they would have done differently, but they did not know and so their defense was their condemnation.

?Oh Lord, you have got to be kidding! That crusty old man was so dirty he couldn?t have taken a bath in months and his feet were disgusting. Did you see those diseased, nasty feet of his? Surely You don?t expect me to help him, I mean I have a reputation to uphold. I was only down there in that neighborhood to have a picture taken with my civic club for the newspaper. Jesus, there is no way that You could have ever been associated in any way with that scum of the earth drug dealer. Why should I ever help him? I don?t care if he did decide to come to church; he does not deserve to come to our church. What would people think if they saw me hanging out with someone like him? I have a reputation to uphold You know. Anyway, it is because of people like him that we have drug treatment centers ? let them take care of him. Lord, the lady and her kids who were living in their car didn?t look a thing like You. Come on now Lord, we have financial difficulties of our own. What, You were in the car? I didn?t see You. I swear I would have brought You to my house. I was only there once and the only reason I went into that neighborhood was just to show my kids how the ?other side? lives. Okay, I?m sorry I didn?t help those folks, but Lord the nursing home? Have You ever smelled one of those places? And the atmosphere is so depressing. Anyway, even if I did go they probably wouldn?t remember me. Hey Jesus, You are really pushing it with the man in jail. I mean he got himself into that mess so let him get himself out of it. It might do him some good to spend a few lonely nights by himself in a cold jail cell. And Jesus says, ?IN AS MUCH AS YOU HAVE NOT DONE IT UNTO THE LEAST OF THESE, YOU HAVE NOT DONE IT UNTO ME!?

If we can turn away from those who are in need then that shows that we don?t belong to the One whose love is unconditional, the One who offers His gifts to good and bad alike. When an opportunity arises to serve someone we are not called to ask, ?Is that You Lord?? We are called to serve all people as a response to our love for Jesus. We are called to see Him as we look into their eyes. We are called to be participants with our Lord in His ministry ? not spectators of His success. We are called to be His hands, not His heroes. We are called to demonstrate the love, mercy, salvation, and grace of our King to those who need it so desperately. We are to see the need and respond exactly the way Jesus would respond. You never know when the Lord is going to lead someone into your life, it might be when you least expect it.

This parable convicts me to the core of my being. When Nate was young I was coaching his baseball team. The Rockies were made up of kids from this church and neighborhood. We were a rag tag group, but we sure had lots of fun. We were at practice one day when one of the moms came up to me and wanted to talk. Her son played on the team and he was one of the cutest little guys you would ever want to meet. Curly brown hair, a smile that would melt your heart, and a willingness to do whatever was best for the team ? what coach could ask for more? D.J. was one of those kids that wasn?t very big, very strong, or very athletic at that point in his life ? he was just a little boy who liked to play baseball. Well, his mother approached me just as practice was about to begin and told me that her son was having recurring headaches and that it was very confusing to her. I asked her, ?Is there anything going on at your house that might be upsetting to him?? When I said those words her heart spilled out on the baseball field for the next thirty minutes as she told me about her life and the desperate situation they were facing.

I found out that her husband had left the family. He was very abusive to her and the kids when he was using drugs. She had gone from living in a home of harmony to collecting food stamps and drawing a check from the government while she went to Vo-Tech to try and gain some secretarial skills so that she might be able to provide for her family. The little boy on my baseball team was right there before me all of the time ? dying on the inside because of his situation. It was time for me to love him beyond what he could do on the field and reach out to him with the love of the Lord.

They are all around us everyday. The precious creations of our Lord, the D.J.?s of this world, they are right under our nose, but we don?t even notice them most of the time because we are so busy with our own little world that they slip right by us. Or worse, we don?t want to get involved because you know how draining ?those? people can be.

A long time ago a man named, Keith Green, wrote a song that broke my heart the first time I heard it. It still has a powerful impact on my life until this day. The words will touch your heart as well.

DO YOU SEE, DO YOU SEE
ALL THE PEOPLE SINKING DOWN
DON?T YOU CARE, DON?T YOU CARE
ARE YOU GONNA LET THEM DROWN
HOW CAN YOU BE SO NUMB
NOT TO CARE IF THEY COME
YOU CLOSE YOUR EYES AND PRETEND THE JOBS DONE

OH BLESS ME LORD, BLESS ME LORD
YOU KNOW THAT?S ALL I EVER HEAR
NO ONE ACHES, NO ONE HURTS
NO ONE EVEN SHEDS ONE TEAR
BUT HE CRIES, HE WEEPS, HE BLEEDS
AND HE CARES FOR YOUR NEEDS
AND YOU JUST LAY BACK AND KEEP HOLDING IT IN

OH, CAN?T YOU SEE IT?S SUCH SIN
?CAUSE HE BRINGS PEOPLE TO YOUR DOOR
AND YOU TURN THEM AWAY
AS YOU SMILE AND SAY,
?GOD BLESS YOU BE IN PEACE?
AND ALL HEAVEN JUST WEEPS
CAUSE JESUS CAME TO YOUR DOOR
YOU?VE LEFT HIM OUT ON THE STREETS

OPEN UP, OPEN UP
AND GIVE YOURSELF AWAY
YOU SEE THE NEEDS, YOU HEAR THE CRIES
SO HOW CAN YOU DELAY
GOD?S CALLING AND YOU?RE THE ONE
BUT LIKE JONAH YOU RUN
HE?S TOLD YOU TO SPEAK BUT YOU KEEP HOLDING IT IN

OH, CAN?T YOU SEE IT?S SUCH SIN
THE WORLD IS SLEEPING IN THE DARK
THAT THE CHURCH JUST CAN?T FIGHT
?CAUSE IT?S ASLEEP IN THE LIGHT
HOW CAN YOU BE SO DEAD
WHEN YOU?VE BEEN SO WELL FED
JESUS ROSE FROM THE GRAVE
AND YOU, YOU CAN?T EVEN GET OUT OF BED
OH, JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD
C?MON GET OUT OF YOUR BED

HOW CAN YOU BE SO NUMB
NOT TO CARE IF THEY COME
YOU CLOSE YOUR EYES
AND PRETEND THE JOBS DONE
YOU CLOSE YOUR EYES
AND PRETEND THE JOBS DONE
DON?T CLOSE YOUR EYES
DON?T PRETEND THE JOBS DONE.

There are many spectators of Jesus today, but there are few who are willing to lay down their lives and be a participant with Him in reaching out to serve the forgotten and the undesirables. Jesus and His followers are much like the fans of a baseball team. When the team is winning and the action is fun then everybody wants to be part of the action. The stands are full every week and people will pay ridiculous ticket prices to see their favorite team. When things go awry and the going gets tough?look out. Ticket prices will drop, but the stands will still not be full. People will wear paper bags over their heads and all of the coaches and players are bums.

The fans of Jesus are much the same. When being a Christian is the ?cool? thing to be then the fans of Jesus will talk about Him with joy in their hearts and a twinkle in their eyes. They will go to church and listen to Christian music, they will put a bumper sticker on their car and wear a cross around their neck, but that will be where it ends. Jesus is merely a means of entertainment or a reason to belong to a group of people. Jesus isn?t looking for fans, He is looking for followers who will follow Him into the highways and hedges where those who are lonely, forgotten, hurting, and cast off lurk in the shadows. Jesus does not want fans, but He does desire faithful followers, passionate participants with Him in loving, serving, and giving to the least of these.
Will you follow Jesus wherever He wants to lead you? Will you let Him use you however He wants to use you? Will you be a blessing to those most of society see as cursed? If that is your heart?s desire you must first surrender your heart before He can use your hands. Won?t you come?
Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
August 19, 2007
bccpreacherman@aol.com

The Parable of the Participants and the Spectators
Matthew 25:31-46