Jesus once said, “When I was in prison, you came to visit me,” so what does this mean and why does Jesus say that we are doing it unto Him (Matt 25:40)?
If we do things for someone, we are really doing them for their family members too. The other day, someone gave me a gift card, but it wasn’t just mine to keep. I gave it to my wife, partly, so I wouldn’t lose it, but I let her have it to use as she pleases, or we can go out together and spend it, but even if she spends it by herself, which is fine by me, she almost always spends it by buying something for someone else. And, she knows the difference between wants and needs, and when she sees a legitimate need, she is usually the one that helps out. That’s her nature. The point is, what you do for her, you do for me, and what you do for me, you do for her. That’s because we’re married, and what affects her, affects me. That’s the same thing Jesus was trying to teach His disciples, as we’ll see later. We can extend that too. If I do something for my mother-in-law, it pleases my wife because that’s her mother, and what people do to or for her, they are really doing to her, because it directly impacts her feelings. There is a connectedness between a mother and daughter that is unlike anything on earth, and I still haven’t figured it out (probably never will), but I know this; what I do for her mother, I am also doing it for my wife’s pleasure. This is the same view that Jesus takes, even on persecution.
Just before Saul (later, Paul) had his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus Christ, he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2), when suddenly “a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:3b-5). Saul, or Paul, hadn’t been persecuting only Christians….in fact, he had been persecuting Christ. By persecuting believers, which is described as the Body of Christ, Saul had been persecuting Jesus Himself, because Jesus is the Head of the Church, and the Head feels the pain of the rest of the body! They are connected. What one member of the body experiences, the other members feel, and so in the same way, when we persecute believers, or when atheists, agnostics, and those of other religions persecute believers, they are persecuting Jesus! And they must expect it, since Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20). What is done to believers, is done to Him, and in a similar way, what we do for others, we do for Him. I’ve stubbed little toe before, and believe me, the whole body knows about it…and suddenly has sympathy for it! That’s because my little toe notified my brain, and then my brain told the rest of the members about it.
In Matthew 25, Jesus gives us an idea of what acts of love we are to do for others, but they’re not just those within the four walls of the church. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matt 25:31), so who is He judging? The answer’s in the following verse, where He says there “will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt 25:32), and then “he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matt 25:33-34), but what is it that makes the difference between being a goat and a sheep? We know Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and Jesus has sheep under His own care (John 10:11-18), and these sheep hear His voice and do what He commands, and they hear Him when He says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt 25:35-36). Of course, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the father, so how could we ever give Him a drink, visit him in prison or while sick? The answer to that is given by Jesus, Who says, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40).
Our church has a prison ministry, and we send Bible studies, but we also send birthday cards, and when we can, commissary money, but why? It’s because these are our brothers and sisters who have put their trust in Christ. They are now paying for their crimes, but they have become new creations in Christ while incarcerated (2 Cor 5:17), and we want to help them by visiting them and helping them grow in the faith, but even though it appears that we’re doing these things for them, in actuality, it is doing it unto Jesus (Matt 25:40). Of course, some may take advantage of this and be a false convert, but Jesus knows, and He’ll sort all that out when He returns, but for now, we are to give people the benefit of the doubt in love (1 Cor 13:7). Besides, Jesus does say that many will think they’re saved, but tragically, He says He doesn’t even know them (Matt 7:21-23). What is not done for others is not done for Christ, so if nothing is done for others, then nothing is done for Christ. Jesus said, “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’” (Matt 25:35-40).
If you have never thought of these things before, maybe what Jesus said has stirred your heart to action. There are many ways we can help the least of these our brothers and sister, but not to recruit or make converts. We never make our help conditional, like, “We’ll help you, but you first must believe.” God alone decides that (John 6:44). We are doing it for Jesus but to Jesus. God does expect us to do for others, which is the same as doing it to Him. Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re saved by doing these works, but the saved will naturally do works…works God has placed before us (Eph 2:10). The question is, will we walk in them, and walk with Christ, doing unto Christ, as we do unto others…or is our faith dead because we have no works (James 2:14-26)? The time to figure this out is right now…while we can still call it today (2 Cor 6:2).
About the Author
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.