Theme: Eternity in hell is no joking matter
This weeks lessons describe the horrid nature of hell and the importance of knowing our destiny.
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This relationship of faith and works bothers some Christians. We know that we are saved by faith alone apart from works according to the explicit teaching of the New Testament. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through—faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” But if that is the case, as we believe it to be, how is it that the judgment can also be based upon works, as in the story of the separation of the sheep and goats or even in the parable of the talents?
The answer, of course, is that passages that speak of the judgment being based on works are merely saying that it, like all judgments, will be on the basis of demonstrable evidence. The works Christians perform do not save them, but they are evidence that they love and trust Jesus. In other words, it is judgment on the highest level of what we attempt on a much lower level when we admit people into membership in a particular church. When we do that we look for what we call a “credible profession,” meaning a verbal profession of faith in Christ supported by a consistent way of life. An inconsistent life invalidates the profession, however sincerely it may be expressed.
William Hendriksen is on target here when he says, “In the case of any given individual what matters is whether he has during his earthly life given evidence of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ therefore, of a life in harmony with Christ’s commands and example.”1
But there is a point worth noting. The evidence of a credible Christian profession mentioned here is not how many great works have been performed for Jesus, how many churches have been built or sermons preached or millions of dollars given to Christ’s cause. These are not “great” things at all. It is the little things, as most people think of them: sharing food with a brother who is hungry, giving water to sister who is thirsty, welcoming a stranger, offering clothes to one who needs clothing, caring for the sick or visiting a person who is in prison.
It is because these are little things that the righteous do not even remember they have done them. They ask Jesus, “When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you” (vv. 37-39).
It is also because these are little things that the unrighteous did not do, They might have done them if someone important, like Jesus, had been there. But they hadn’t seen anyone like that. “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” (v. 44) Of course, they only delude themselves by such comments, because they would not have helped even an important person in a truly selfless way. They would have done it only for what they could have gotten back from that important person in return.
1 William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids; Baker Book House, 1985), p. 886.
Why is faith without works dead?
Why did the wicked not see Christ?