What is a king? What does it mean to have a king? Who is a king? In this land of democracy, which was built throwing off our ties to a king and breaking out on our own without the fetters of a dieing feudal system and its monarchy, what does it mean to say that Christ is king? England still has a queen and will someday in my lifetime have a King. But the monarchy there is little more than a living parade, a living heirloom of by gone days of England’s past. But many countries still have kings in far off places of this world.
Every year at District Pastor's Retreat, a group of us go to eat at a Thai restaurant. They have three pictures of this very regal looking couple on three of the walls. One year I asked the waitress who this couple was. She told us that they were the king and queen of Thailand. From what I understand, the king and queen of Thailand are held in great affection by the Thai people. The waitress told us quite a bit about how wonderful this couple is and how much they are revered and respected by Thai people everywhere. The owners of this restaurant live here in the states, but they still honor and revere the king of their native land.
A good king is respected and honored by his people. A good king is kind and just and is loved by all those whom he rules. But a king does not have to be these things in order to be king. A king is a king by birth, by having been born in the right family at the right time, or by coo, by over throwing the current king and taking over his throne and establishing his line and his lineage as the new succession to the throne. A king is king by power of the law but ironically in many ways is above the law and not required to adhere to the very law which makes him king. A king can still be king due to this power he wields even if he is cruel and tyrannical. A king can still be king even if he squanders the people’s money and mistreats them at every turn. As long as he can hold onto his power the king. History shows us that a king can be good or bad; kind and just, or tyrannical and bent on nothing but his own gain.
So there are kings who are revered and honored, kings who deserve to be praised for their kindness, generosity and the just way they rule their people. When we look to God, we, as Christians would expect that Jesus, as king, would be the later. This passage presents to us Jesus, as a king who divides people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The sheep he allows into his kingdom and the goats are thrown out, not allowed to enter.
In every place I have ever heard of there being a King, the King does not get to choose who his people are. He is born to be king of a particular kingdom and all the people in the kingdom are his people. A king just accepts the people he is given. Just as he was born to be king, everyone else, who was born within the borders of his kingdom, are born to be his subjects. But Christ the king is picky. He does not simply want subjects, he wants a certain kind of subjects. He wants subjects who live and act in ways which he deems worthy, just. He only wants subjects who are righteous, for it is those whom he calls righteous he decides are the sheep and accepts, it is those who do not live in righteous ways whom he calls goats and casts out.
Jesus is not only our king but he is choosy about those who will be in his kingdom. Jesus, the Son of Man will sit on the throne of Heaven and divide up those who are in his kingdom and those who are not. On his left he puts the goats, saying to them that he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison and they did not feed him, give him something to drink, welcome him, cloth him, take care of him or visit him. To the right he puts the sheep and he says to them, I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison and when you saw me you fed me, gave me a drink, welcomed me, clothed me, took care of me, and visited me. To those on his right, he praises them and welcomes them into his eternal kingdom, to those on his left he will cast out of his kingdom where they are punished.
And all the good protestant Christians, who know that the grace of God and the gift of eternal life are freely given to those who have believed and have and know that entrance into God’s kingdom cannot be earned by merit or by good works, scratch their head and begin to wonder, “when was it that the world turned upside down and how is it that everything we believed to be true about how these things work can proved to be false?”
What is Jesus saying? It sounds like he is saying that in order to be accepted into Christ’s kingdom we have to do certain things. Earning our way into God’s eternal kingdom is done by giving to those who are less fortunate. That can’t be right, can it? It goes against everything that I have ever been taught, when it comes to how the grace, and forgiveness of God works.
But that is what Jesus says there. I just read it, “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'. . .‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me 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 nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'. . .‘Truly I tell you, just 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."
It says it right there if you give food the hungry, water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, take care of the sick and visit the imprisoned we will be called righteous and welcomed into eternal life. Jesus says it, so it must be true.
It is true, in that, those who love Christ and seek to live as Christ lived and be the people Christ calls them to do these things do these things. It is not true that these are the things that gain entrance into Jesus’ kingdom. Yet it is true, in that because faith and belief came first; faith comes before the actions. In fact faith is the reason for the actions. Those who live the love of God in their lives, those who accept the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and have faith in him for eternal life, will visit the sick, cloth the naked, welcome the stranger, give water to the thirsty and feed the hungry. They will do all these things because their faith compels them to, because the love they have from Jesus will not allow them to not.
Faith is a strange kind of belief. Faith is a belief that is lived, it is a belief which can only exist in action. You can believe that a force called gravity keeps us firmly stuck to the ground. You can believe that the world is made up of tiny electrically charged particles whose properties dictate how our world works but those kind of beliefs require nothing of us. We either believe that these unseen forces are at work in our world or we don’t. There is nothing that believing or not believing in electrons requires of us, but faith in Jesus Christ, requires something of us. It moves us, it changes us and spurs us into action.
Once you know the truth of the gospel, once you come to and understanding of the God of the universe and that God’s love for each and every one of us, that love, that truth changes who we are, it changes how we live. It compels us to move in our world in loving ways. The love of God is a love that requires us to then in turn love those around us. If we truly understand that God loves us and calls for us to love the world around us, we cannot see one who is hungry and desire to feed, see one who is thirty and desire to quench that thirst, we cannot see one whom God loves and cherishes in pain or in need and not desire to reach out with the love that God had given to us and share that love by soothing that pain or meeting that need.
If we truly believe that God loves us. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ showed that love in his life, teachings, death and resurrection and that love calls us into relationship with the God of the universe and then we cannot help but be filled with that love, that love fills us, lives in us and is worked out in our actions and interactions in this world. The love we have for Christ is manifested in our love for those around us.
Christ, the king of heaven, knows that if we truly love him, then that love will be lived out in how we treat those around us. When we love Jesus we will treat each and everyone we meet as if that person were Jesus. As Christians we should see Jesus in everyone we meet, in everyone with whom we interact. We should treat our boss, our siblings, our parents, the stranger we pass on the street with the love, the dignity and the respect with which we would treat them if we truly believed them to be Jesus Christ himself.
Although it might be easy to get the cart before the horse, so to speak, and think that Jesus is telling us that it is the doing of these things which gets us into Heaven. But in fact this passage is not putting forth this kind of works related righteousness. Jesus is not telling us how to earn our way to heaven, instead he is describing what a life lived in love with God, a life living out that love will look like. They are the mark of one who is sanctified. They are the outward signs of Christian perfection. This is what holy living looks like when lived out by God’s people.
This is not a prescription of how to get to Heaven, feed three hungry people, take a cup of cold water to one who is thirsty and call me in the morning. This is a description of what a life lived completely and totally given over to God will look like; if you love Jesus. This is what a holy life looks like. When the people of God are living out God’s holiness in this world then, the hungry will be fed the thirsty will be quenched, the stranger will be welcomed, the naked will be clothed, the sick will be taken care of and the prisoner will be visited. Those who are in need around you will be provided for. You will live a life of compassion. You will love each and every person as if they themselves were God. You will speak to each person you meet as if they were Jesus Christ. Everyone you meet will be treated with the kindness, the respect, the love you would give if they were Jesus. You will honor everyone as if they were you king. When you love God, you will love your neighbor. When you love Jesus Christ you will love the outcast and the lonely. The love of God will be the hallmark of your life. When people encounter you they will encounter the love of God in you, because you are loving them as if they are God. This is what it means to be holy, to live out God’s holiness in your day to day life.
We love because God loves. We love because we believe. We love because our faith compels us to. We cannot love Jesus without loving those around us. We cannot be people of faith unless we are feeding the hungry, quenching the thirst of the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, taking care of the sick and visiting those in prison, because that is what a life of faith will look like to one who is observing it from the outside. It will be a life marked by action, a life marked by love moving; a life marked by someone who cannot stand by and to allow those around them to suffer.
Our faith moves us in ways that will not allow suffering to continue to go on around us in this world. A true believer in Jesus Christ will not go unmoved when another is suffering. A true adherent to the faith cannot but help but be torn apart when someone around them is hurting. We, as follows of Christ will be forced into action by our faith and by our love for Jesus to mend the broken, and be balm to those who are hurting. The love of Christ compels us, moves us and transforms us in ways so that we are ruled by an over powering, outreaching love that will not stop until we have loved all those we touch and are moving to right the wrongs that Jesus himself came to this world to right.