Jesus Was An Immigrant and Poor
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 25:35b (Holman) I was a stranger and you took Me in.
This is the third of six works in this parable: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in immigrants, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit prisoners. Jesus was here highlighting a few of many good deeds required in Christianity. He elsewhere outlined other things we have to do.
These six works needed to be highly stressed. Jesus felt the best way to do this was to drive home their importance in this Judgment Day parable.
Some treat kind deeds as if they are ultimate ends in themselves, as if helping people without ever referring to how to become a Christ-follower is okay. I know not every act of practical benevolence has to be accompanied with the plan of salvation. The Gospel always has kind deeds attached to it, but not all kindnesses have to be accompanied with verbal proclamations of the Gospel. This having been said, I feel a need to remind us something is wrong when the story that impels our kindness is the story that is never told.
We at Second need to hear this. We do well in social compassion and practical benevolence. We falter in sharing the Gospel. We give many cups of cold water; we need to give them more often in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:41).
“Strangers” included foreigners, immigrants, refugees and any others who were lonely, needing comfort and companionship. Caring for strangers has ever been vital to God’s people. Job valued it, “No stranger had to spend the night on the street, for I opened my door to the traveler” (Job 31:32).
Caring for the displaced should matter to believers because our Savior was an immigrant. He left His home in Heaven to become a stranger in the very world He created. There was no room for Him in the Bethlehem inn (LK 2:7). He came to His own people, but they received Him not (JN 1:11).
As a baby, Jesus had to flee as a refugee to Egypt. As an adult, He hid from hostile crowds, had nowhere to lay His head, and heard people yell “Crucify!” We wish we could have been there to help Him. Gladly, what we could not do there and then, we can do here and now. His plight should make us tenderhearted toward all strangers. Their condition resembles His.
“You took Me in” means welcoming people into our homes. We need to receive strangers hospitably, as family. This does not mean we should foolishly risk our safety. We have hotels and other places to provide shelter.
But the core issue remains, have we given our most expensive earthly possession, our house, to the Lord? Have we consciously laid it on the altar?
Matt. 25:36a I was naked and you clothed Me.
A Christianity that does not minister to the poor is a counterfeit Christianity. “If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it” (James 2:15-16)?
Ancient pagan philosophers could wax eloquent in their debates about the role of suffering in human life, but they never got around to discussing how they could actually help relieve suffering by hands-on caring for the poor. Imposing monuments celebrating strength and conquest lined the roads of Rome, but none ever celebrated anyone’s compassion toward the poor.
Judeo-Christian thought taught the lesson of philanthropy to the world. Jesus thrust the idea of social compassion onto history’s center stage.
Where else could it have come from? Ancient secular cultures did not pass it to us. All objective, honest observers know this of Jesus. This is why He cannot be dispensed with. His kind legacy haunts even His opponents.
With our words we readily confess a Christ-follower is expected to show self-denial. The issue becomes, when and where do we show it?
The early believers in Jerusalem saw their possessions as something to be shared with others. “No one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common” (Acts 4:32). “There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34) because they sold their houses and land to distribute the proceeds to people in need. We also can do this if we will see our possessions as things to do good with.
Every one of us can spend our whole lives serving Jesus in this way. He Himself said we would always have the poor with us (Matthew 26:11).
Providence has ordered that there will always be some who have, and some who have not. Some can give relief; others need it. There will always be plenty of people in need of help. We will never run out of possibilities.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus stressed loving deeds of mercy and generosity. Most of these opportunities surprise us every day in our daily conduct, in what we call the little things of life, in spontaneous self-sacrifice.
Our chief tasks are humble duties pertaining to every day living. These are not “huge” accomplishments. Preaching, teaching, memorizing creeds, casting out demons, miracles, knowledge, and zeal are not mentioned here. Jesus spoke of “mundane” deeds, of help we can handily give.
He required only what is easily within our ability to do, tests of charity, practical benevolence. Faith within us works itself out of us in love.
God is watching our reaction to human need. Anyone can do these six homework assignments. In this school, even the “little people” can be at the top of the class.
I am grateful for the 120 or so billionaires such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, David Rockefeller, Ted Turner, Mark Zuckerberg, and George Lucas who have taken “The Giving Pledge”. This is a commitment by the world’s wealthiest to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
But billions of us are not billionaires. This does not make us second-class citizens. God never intended for His work to be done only by the rich.
God blesses His followers in commonplace matters. All must help. Anyone can do these things.
The proof of salvation is not monumental works, but little things: sharing food, giving water, welcoming a stranger, clothing the needy, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners. These merciful deeds are rarely mentioned in the newspaper or on TV, but are recorded in Heaven to be remembered.
When Jesus listed His credentials in Nazareth, He focused not on the amazing, but on the disenfranchised, prisoners, blind, downtrodden (Luke 4:18-19).
Our job is to ask people to trust a God they hear of from us, a God they hopefully see in us. They are to see His light as it shines from inside us.
Are unbelievers seeing Jesus in our lives? Remember, selfishness contradicts all Jesus represented. It is the antithesis of true Christian living.
Without generosity we cannot display Jesus’ personality. We act like God’s children if we live beyond ourselves by generously caring for others.
What good is it for us to be called imitators of Christ if our religion never reaches the money in our pocketbooks? Some wallets are hermetically sealed, keeping even the smell of money from reaching the poor and needy.
Practical Christian benevolence is absolutely vital. It brings us the closest we can come to the goal of showing the compassion Jesus showed.
When we say here “Holiness matters most”, our first thought is our relationship with God. Often we are not sure how close we are to God, how effective our prayers are, or how much Bible reading is enough. Sometimes the best way to know how we are with God is to judge how we are with the flip side of the holiness equation–others, especially the disenfranchised.
“If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need—how can God’s love reside in him? Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action. This is how we will know we belong to the truth” (1 John 3:17-19a).
We have no more true religion than the total of love we show. “There is something fitting in hearts of love going to a heaven of love” (Glover).