There’s a tidal wave of human injustices in our world today. It’s both sickening and incomprehensible that people can treat other people with such hatred and callous disregard for basic human dignity. Consider this:
• Countless people are trapped in the bonds of sex-slavery. Many children and women are enticed or ripped from their families and homes and forced to endure inhumane treatment from their captors, including rape, untreated sexually transmitted diseases, forced abortions, and other unspeakable violence.
• People in many parts of the world have to drink water tainted by human waste, and are forced to eat rancid food and build cardboard makeshift homes in garbage dumps. Violence and fear are everyday occurrences, as gangs prowl these areas like hungry wolves.
• Christians in some countries have been beheaded, bombed and killed simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Even as the world rightfully responds with outrage at the report of poached endangered animals, it’s unfathomable that there isn’t an even louder outcry and response when innocent people are murdered because of their beliefs.
These are just a few examples of the sad state of this world. Even as Jesus said that we would have poor people with us in this world, He also made it clear that we are not to be sidelined onlookers in this struggle. On several occasions, He illustrated this point through parables.
In one parable, Jesus painted a picture of the end of all things when God will separate people for judgment like sheep are separated from goats. The understanding of this parable is that sheep represent people who are part of the loved flock of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. These people will be ushered into the eternally green pastures and still waters of the Father’s Kingdom. Goats, on the other hand, represent people who are unaligned with the Shepherd. They do whatever they want, regardless of what Jesus the Good Shepherd would urge and lead them to do. They could care less about following anyone, much less Jesus. The final destinations of these two groups were starkly different. Jesus stated that the goats, the unrighteous that don’t follow him, “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ” (Matthew 25:46)
The practical criteria for the judgment of the groups was simple: those who fed, clothed, took care of, visited in prison, or gave something to drink to Jesus, and those who didn’t. Neither sheep nor goats could figure out when they did—or didn’t do— the things Jesus listed. Knowing this, Jesus spelled it out to them: “…Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25)
Let me again point out that this is not about gaining our way into heaven by doing good works. The Bible makes it clear that all our so-called “good works” are like filthy rags to God. The only way to eternal life with God is through a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.
However, the evidence of our life will point to the presence of —or lack of— a transforming relationship with God. In other words, the proof is in the pudding.
Sheep are focused on following their shepherd-master. By their very nature they do as the shepherd does, and go where he goes. Sheep know from experience that the Shepherd has delivered them from dangerous animals and terrain. Their shepherd found and rescued them when they were lost, and He has led them to safe havens, good food, and drinkable water. They come to know Him relationally as leader, protector, and provider. They owe their very LIFE to Him. They are so identified with Him that they are simply focused on following Him and doing what He leads them to do. The evidence of their “Sheep-hood” is in how they follow the shepherd. Their behavior reveals their true nature because they LOVE their Shepherd leader.
Goats, on the other hand, represent people who aren’t connected with the Good Shepherd. They don’t follow the Shepherd because they don’t think they need a relationship with Him, and so the evidence of their “goat-hood” is found in their self-guided nature and desires.
The evidence of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is found in the choices we make and the kind of lives we live. Whenever our Good Shepherd directs us to do something practical for the least among us, it’s time to “sheep-up” and obediently do as He says. If our worship life does not compel us to care for the “least” among us, perhaps it’s time to re-assess if we have truly given God full access to our hearts and lives.
“Caring for the least of these” may mean visiting a senior who is lonely or in failing health. It may involve adopting a child in a third world country through a regular monthly gift to a reputable hunger relief organization. It may mean writing a letter to a legislator about an injustice in the world. God may even be calling you to move to a different neighborhood, city, state, or foreign country and spend your days helping people to see who Jesus really is through practical, tangible ministry or relief efforts.
Worship is activated when we show Jesus-generated love to those who are in trouble, downcast, or in need. This kind of worship expression flows out of the realization that Jesus rescued us out of our desperate condition, so we are no different than those He calls us to serve, just in different circumstances. When we have encountered God in a life-altering deliverance, we will no longer live the way we used to live. Something fundamental and foundational changes in us: our very nature is tied to God.
We start to look and operate like He does because He is our Shepherd.