Every journey or undertaking consists of three basic parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end. Our spiritual life is no exception. Rather, the beginning, middle, and end of our life with God comprise the most important phases of our existence as human beings created in the image and likeness of God (see Gen. 1:26 and Phil. 3:12-14).
Having begun the journey of repentance by grace and faith in Christ, we now consider the goal of the journey and how to get there. The goal: 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… the righteous into eternal life' (Matt. 25:34, 46). How to get there (the middle of the journey): '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… Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me' (Matt. 25:35, 40).
These words of Christ come at the conclusion of our Lord's final instructional discourse in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew. They are from the last of three scenes (i.e., the Ten Virgins, the Talents, and the Judgment) describing the spiritual vigilance necessary to enter the Kingdom of heaven when lack of vigilance will result in the torment of separation from the Kingdom and its life and joy. In addition to the watchfulness of a living faith and the faithful exercise of whatever gifts we have from God, here we learn the specific activity of those who want to enter eternal life: showing mercy to the least for the sake of Christ.
Who are the least? Consider the following words of Christ:
- And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward. (Matt. 10:42)
- Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matt. 11:11)
- Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. (Matt. 18:3-5)
- And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:27-28)
- But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt. 23:11-12)
"The least" are the child-like, those content to serve, the humble; "the least" are trying to be like their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Isaiah writes: But in comparison to all men, His form was lacking in honor. He was a man in suffering and knew how to bear sickness. His face was turned away, and He was dishonored and not esteemed… He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before his shearers, so He opens not His mouth (Isa. 53:3, 7).
Therefore, the righteous who follow Christ are described as sheep on His right hand (Matt. 25:33) who serve in the mercy, humility, and meekness of Christ Himself. Just like Christ who condescended to our mortal human level to save us, the sheep of God live quiet lives of service to all persons for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11), regardless of their station in this world, especially those in the greatest need.
People who do not follow Christ will not share in the glory of Christ in His kingdom of everlasting life for the exact same reason: they do not live a life of service to the least, that is, to Christ Jesus the Lord (Matt. 25:45). The cursed are the goats who live simply for themselves without regard for the weak and needy, and they will share eternity with the devil and his angels in the place of everlasting fire, burning in the torment of love of self, disobedience, and regret (Matt. 25:33, 41; cf. Rev. 20:10-15; 21:6-8).
God desires all people to be His sheep, His righteous ones. The Kingdom of life was prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:33; see Jn. 17:24). Christ who assumed our weakness and shame by dying on the Cross triumphed over sin and death by His glorious resurrection. He is the King who will sit on the throne to judge the nations. That is the destination of our journey through this life. We will share in the life and glory of Christ by sharing His mercy throughout this journey until we come to that destination.