In the cycle of the Church Year, the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent and the start of the new cycle is the Sunday of the of Christ the King. It serves as a bit of a review of what we’ve done for the King and His kingdom in the past year and in our lives so far. The Gospel reading is Matthew 25:31-46.
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of 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 drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting 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 take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
“Then they also will answer Him, 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, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch 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 everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
To understand the things Jesus requires, perhaps it is worth mentioning the things He does not require.
Note that Jesus doesn’t seem to care about whether we’ve healed the sick, or cast out demons, or raised the dead. It’s not that Christians shouldn’t do these things. In the longer ending of Mark, Jesus even says that believers will cast out demons and lay hands on the sick, and a number of other good things.
Yet Jesus is clear that not only are these activities not criteria in His judgment, but there will be those who use these as evidence that they are entitled to entry into the kingdom of heaven and He will say , “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (See Matthew 7:21-23)
And how have they practiced lawlessness? In chapter 22, a lawyer asked him:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Not loving your neighbor as yourself – again, applying the criteria Jesus has set out – is lawlessness.
Note that He doesn’t ask whether they’ve received Him into their heart as their personal savior. But that’s not surprising, as its a concept that appears nowhere in the Bible and nowhere in the Church until the 20th century.
But setting aside the dependence of modern American evangelical Christianity on an unscriptural, novel paradigm of salvation, what about faith? Doesn’t Jesus care whether they claim to have had faith in Him?
Faith without works is dead, as James tells us. Dead faith is no faith at all. Therefore, there need not be any questions of faith in the scene of the Judgment. Jesus will know them by their fruits. The fruits have nothing to do with miracles or even how many people they “led to the Lord.”
Rather the application of these criteria – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison – should be a high priority in the life of those who hope to enter into eternal life.
Do you do these things? Your eternal life depends on it. That’s what Jesus says.