For six years now this column (Follow Me) has been devoted to our responding to the clarion and intimate call of Jesus Christ to “Follow Me” (see Matthew 4:19; John 21:19-22). In this two-word invitation, the living Christ greets and encourages His disciples along life’s journey to remind and refresh us to stay the course and emulate Him in thought, word and deed—towards not only God, but one another here below.
We need to consider what lens Jesus viewed others through that allowed such sensitivity and caring. How important is it that we use the same lens? It’s all-important! Inasmuch as we adopt this principle is the degree to which Christ will acknowledge our discipleship as genuine—and for doing so we will receive our Heavenly Father’s blessing.
The jolting wake-up call
We discover surprising repercussions of this perspective in Matthew 25 at the end of Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives a few days before His death and resurrection—a message begun in chapter 24 with world conditions leading up to the time of His second coming and concluding here with a needed one-on-one personal admonition to His followers.
In depicting a future time of divine judgment that will distinguish between what Scripture refers to as sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-33), Christ has this to say to encourage some and awaken others:
“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:33-37).
It is “the righteous,” or “the sheep,” within this setting who effectively respond (to paraphrase Matthew 25:37), “What? When did all this happen?” And the King, Jesus Christ, will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40, emphasis added throughout).
Jesus goes on to chide and judge those on His left hand, “the goats,” by proclaiming, “Depart from Me,” citing their lack of sensitivity and care when confronted with the same circumstances (Matthew 25:41-46). He doubles down on the specific cause for such judgment in verse 45: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”
It’s very personal with Christ
Now, let’s intensify our examination of this passage (Matthew 25:31-46) and note some astounding conclusions. First: This is all very personal with Christ. He 13 times here speaks of “Me” (Himself) in relationship to “the least of these.” It’s as if He’s placing His nametag around the neck of all those whom His followers will ultimately meet.
He deliberately personalizes our encounters with others in 25 times here referring to “you.” You and I bear responsibility for our approach toward and encounters with others. And consider that this is in each case a one-on-two encounter. How you treat another person is not merely singular, but plural in the sense that Christ not only self identifies with each of these individuals as the recipient of treatment, but He says that “the least of these” are “My brethren.”
Twice in this eye-opening and heart-awakening passage, Christ uses wording translated into the English term “inasmuch as” as the great balancer of judgment. The dictionary defines this term as “in the degree that” or “in view of the fact that” (Merriam-Webster.com). Jesus is plainly stating that our concern for others is a direct reflection of our concern for Him. And our disdain or indifference towards the plight of others creates distance not only from others but from Him.
At this juncture you might be saying to yourself, “I’m a compassionate person, and when I see people in hard circumstances, I do try to do something charitable for them if but for the moment.”
And of course that is well and good, but I wish to expand your insight on the totality of what Christ is saying here. I’m addressing something beyond random acts of charity and perceived goodness on our terms and timing. I’m speaking about being a witness for Jesus Christ in a darkened world that has been spiritually starving and languishing since humanity rejected God in the Garden of Eden.
Today our world is increasingly afflicted by an epidemic of meaninglessness—infected by a culture of secularism devoid of the Author of life. Humanity is locked in a prison of its own making based on its decision to reject the loving sovereignty of God to mold people’s lives in His image. Yet that remains God’s purpose.
Looking through the lens of God’s great purpose
Through what lens did Christ view others? We see it right in the beginning of Scripture. The first four words in Genesis 1 form the engine that pulls the rest of the train of Scripture. “In the beginning God . . .”! Not you, not me—God! And that same God declared His great decision to bring us all into existence, saying, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
And this was to become reality. The next verse tells us, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Yet the divine blueprint laid out before us here goes beyond man’s initial creation. God’s purpose is to ultimately move from a physical creation of clay to a new creation of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17)—for us to be truly like Him. Thus, man is made in the image of God and demands our total respect. We must honor what God is doing or is yet to do with every other person made in His likeness.
Genesis informs us that humanity did not appreciate this incredibly special creation of being in God’s likeness. Regard for human life evaporated after the time of Adam and Eve, the pre-Flood world becoming “filled with violence” (Genesis 6:13) and people’s thoughts “only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). It must have been a murderous society!
We see further indication of this after Noah and his family left the ark. God made a covenant that focused on the preciousness of His special creation: “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; [Why?] for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:5-6). God made it clear that those created in His image are to be handled with care.
Now you might be saying: “But how does this apply to me? I haven’t taken anyone’s life!” The reality is that you don’t have to literally murder or destroy people to snuff out their lives and make them “the walking dead.” More than 3,500 years ago Job pleaded with his friends, “How long will you torment my soul, and break me in pieces with words?” (Job 19:2).
The apostle James wrote that while we use our tongue to praise God, we sadly use the same tongue to also “curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9, English Standard Version).
We are all brothers in sharing this likeness. And Jesus declared that not only actual murderers but “whoever is angry against his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment,” with expressed disdain being even more perilous (Matthew 5:21-22).
The apostle John wrote, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
Christ saw others in the likeness of Himself and the Father for the purpose for which these others were made—the lens through which we must also see them. And as God loves them, so must we—else we are not caring for what the Father and Christ care for and are thus not loving Them and trusting in what They are doing.
Keeping the needed focus
We live in a target-rich environment for showing dignity and respect toward God’s special creation made in His image and must allow that to be our starting point of connection.
It’s well established that physical touch plus verbal and emotional connections are vital to infants. Without it they simply don’t thrive. But are grown-ups that different? Yet sometimes those closest to us—be it our spouse, children, coworkers, fellow congregants—are those who sense the most distance from us and feel “least,” not in Christ’s lens but in our eyes.
Are people difficult? Even those closest to us? Absolutely! And relationships can be—well—messy. But we need the same starting point Christ had in moving into the lives of others. Recognize that we are all made in God’s image—including the person you may have challenges with right now—and always remember that Christ has already died for all mankind. And even though most people right now don’t really know Him or understand what He has done for them, that doesn’t take us off the hook of Christlike responsibility. In fact, that is why they need our mercy and compassion!
What is it with human nature that too often forgets to remember? Well, let’s focus here. Do we remember where Christ picked us up along the way and offered us dignity and assurance and granted us an inner peace we never experienced before? Yes, when we were famished for a life of meaning and struggling along “doing our own thing” apart from God? How was that working out? It wasn’t.
And then we received a calling from our Heavenly Father (John 6:44) and a personal invitation by Jesus Christ of “Follow Me.” We weren’t ignored, put on hold, looked down on or looked past to something more attractive. God chose to favor us, and a nametag was placed around us declaring each of us part of “My brethren.” It doesn’t get better than being in the very family of God!
Are you or I ever difficult? Of course, but God loves and cares for us still—looking to what He intends for us. And so must we love and care for others, looking to them as the focus of God’s loving care with the ultimate purpose He made them for. If we really love Him, then we’ll also love them.
After sharing time with me reading this column and inasmuch as we’ve explored the heart of Christ through His own words, it’s my greatest hope and God’s sincerest desire that you will look at other human beings in a new light, through the same lens as that of Jesus Christ!