The Least Of These

As I sit here writing these words, it is Easter Sunday morning. For the first time in my life I attended Easter worship in my pajamas, watching a livestream from my couch. It was easy, comfortable, and convenient for me and others viewing the service via my church’s Facebook page. My father gave an excellent sermon as he always does, and as the live video came to an end, all viewers were able to quickly continue with our days and whatever plans we have with our families.

Despite this apparent ease of our new routine, I feel a strong conviction from the Lord this morning. A verse that has continually worked itself into my mind this morning and in recent days is Matthew 25:40, which reads “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” the least of these being the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. This verse puts on full display to me how ease and convenience are antithetical to our collective calling as followers of Christ. As the church, we like helping the poor, the needy, those who need our help, and it is a beautiful thing when we are able to meet the needs of our community. However, too often our participation in service to others only extends as far as it is convenient for us to do so. We will serve at a food bank on our saturday off, or serve the homeless during a regularly scheduled church meeting, or go on a mission trip during a free week in the summer. This brings the question: Would we only serve within our comfort zone if it was Christ himself we were serving?

My guess is no. We would go above and beyond, sacrificing time, money, and energy in our dedication to the Savior. This would be a show of reciprocity that is rightfully earned by His sacrifice on the cross. But when it comes to other people, we are hesitant to give beyond our bare minimum time, money, and effort because, let’s face it, what have they done for us? They haven’t made the ultimate sacrifice, they aren’t Jesus, so we don’t have an incentive to go above and beyond for them. In rationalizing this, we fail to remember that the reason Jesus came in the first place was because WE are “the least of these.” We are the ones that are so desperately in need of saving, and Jesus made a painful, inconvenient sacrifice on the cross, not because we were worth saving, but because of an overwhelming, all-encompassing love for His people.

It is that same love that we should aspire to give our fellow sinners, not because they deserve it, but because it is what we are called to. Mark 12:31 says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That does not mean love your neighbor according to what they have done for you, or treat them as you would like to be treated, but love them to the same extent that Jesus loved you, to the point of bloodshed, torture and death. This kind of love is self-sacrificial and requires faith to the point of reckless abandon of ourselves for the benefit of others. Our love is not a calculation of debts owed, but an extension of Christ. Our culture tells us that the condition of our lives is somehow earned, that the comfortable deserve their comfort and those who struggle haven’t been good enough to be in better circumstances, but I can personally say that that is not true. I have been blessed with comfort, a loving family, the good fortune to attend my dream college, and countless other things that I was lucky to receive, but did not earn.

The reality is that all any of us has earned in our lives is condemnation, but God has given us a way out because of love. When we accept that, it becomes easier to relinquish what we have been given on earth. Any earthly privilege we have is given from God so that we may use it to help His people. That means that if we are lucky enough to live lives without poverty, without oppression, without abuse, we should do everything in our power to assist those that have. It is our calling as Christians, not to mention just as human beings. I acknowledge that I often fail in this. I am selfish with my money, time, and privilege. I am consumed with my worldly image, striving to meet earthly measures of success.But just because we fail does not mean we cease to try. We cannot just stop loving the poor, the homeless, the incarcerated, and the abused simply because it is difficult. The cross was difficult too, but it gives us hope and life, and that outpouring of love is what we ought to emulate with our words and our efforts as we go forward.

Thank you and God bless

Tanner Knox

Embracing Our Place

Last night I went to a graduation ceremony at my church for two great young men who had completed a gospel-centered drug rehabilitation program.

Those who filled the pews in our sanctuary came from all various backgrounds. There were those who have grown up in church, in Christian families, like myself. There were those who had fought addiction for decades and were continuing to be sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There were those who have their Baptist Hymnal memorized, complete with the third and fourth verses of many songs. There were those who prefer the ear-shattering drums and bass of concert-style music like we had last night.

All the while, I reflected on how this was the future of the church in America.

(I’m not talking about the music. Ear-shattering electric guitar is not more pleasing to God than hymns, or vice versa. Worship is about the condition of one’s heart, not one’s preference in music style.)

A unique, diverse group of men and women who were all acknowledging their need for the saving work of Christ.

You see, it’s those who acknowledge their need for Jesus who experience Jesus.

Those who act like they have it all together (none of us do) miss out on the joy and hope of Jesus.

The Lord has been revealing this to me over and over.

The first way God revealed this to me was on Monday night. Every week or so, my wife and I do a short Bible study in the Gospel of Luke. We were reading in Luke 6, and the following passage was impactful and intriguing.

Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. 

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. – Luke 6:20-26

Wow.

Talk about how the kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom.

Who is blessed?

The poor, those who are hungry, those who weep, those who are hated.

Now who is it that should be warned?

The rich, the well fed, the happy, the well spoken of and well liked.

When I think back to last night’s extravaganza, this passage just bursts into reality. A sanctuary full of men and women who acknowledged ‘I’m not strong enough. I’m not good enough. I need help. I need a Savior.” Those who acknowledge their needs will be blessed by the presence of their Savior.

Fast-forward from Monday night with my wife to yesterday afternoon. I was working through a Bible study on the book of Galatians, and I came across this quote.

Their belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah was hard to reconcile with the traditional view of an exalted Messiah, especially because Jesus had been nailed to a cross, like a common criminal. 

This quote is in reference to first-century Jews who had a hard time accepting that Jesus was the Messiah. This was because they believed their Messiah would restore the people of God to prominence, usurping the authority of Rome. This isn’t what happened. Instead, Rome crucified this Messiah. It didn’t make sense to them.

That’s because Jesus turns everything upside down. Instead of leading a rebellion to overthrow Rome and be served, He came to serve and give His life for His people.

You know what’s interesting to me?

You and I like to fight for that second list.

Don’t we?

We want to be full. We want to have self-worth that is boosting through the roof, so the gospel becomes about us rather than God. We want cushy, comfortable church experiences where we are never convicted or challenged. We want to be liked by everyone (well, some of us desire this). Our biggest hopes are that legislations and laws will be enacted that support our views. We want the church to be central. God and country. Cultural Christianity. All the while we are being warned by Jesus not to strive for these things.

Brothers and sisters, why are you clawing so hard to get back to the center of society?

Brothers and sisters, why are you exerting all of your energy to be better than Jesus? He suffered. We will suffer.

Instead, embrace what makes us blessed in the eyes of Christ.

Embrace your sinfulness. Embrace your need for a Savior. Embrace the aches and pains in your heart. Embrace God for who He is. Embrace the joy and hope that the saving work of Jesus brings. Embrace the margins of society. Most definitely speak up against sin in our country. Get off of Facebook pleading for people to see your point of view and instead be the hands and feet of Christ in your community. Stop trying to be more well-liked than your Savior.

I pray for the church to get pushed to the margins more and more. It’s not an easy prayer to pray, but it’s a powerful one.

This place is not your home.

God’s kingdom flips everything on its head.

Our walk as followers of Jesus comes with persecution.

But one day, a day I look forward to, I will be in the presence of God. He will have renewed all things. Once again I will be worshipping the King of Kings with hymnal-thumpers and Christian rappers alike (and I can promise you the worship won’t be like either), all acknowledging that we needed saving, and a Savior came for us.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach