Good News to the ____ (pt. 2)

(Read part 1 here.)

What does the gospel have to say about ministering to the poor? Quite a lot, actually. We see this clearly displayed in the gospels, even before the birth of Jesus takes place.

In Mary’s Magnificat, she glorifies God for the great things he has done, particularly in the promise of her coming Son.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

Luke 1:52-53

Is it any wonder Jesus’ first beatitude in Matthew 5 was about the poor? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3, ESV)

In God’s inside-out, upside-down Kingdom, the rich don’t get richer; they’re sent away empty. The Good News Jesus brought proclaimed a kingdom where God would tear down oppression and raise up the hungry and humble.

If you read the entirety of the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospels, I would not fault you if you came away with the conclusion that ministering to the poor is the primary thrust of acting out the Good News.

At the risk of losing readers by touching the nerve of politics, I feel the need to make the point that before social justice was on the banners of activists and in the bullhorns of progressives, it was in the mouths of Old Testament prophets and in the heart of God. (The means of accomplishing this and the authority to which they appeal are, to be sure, very different. It’s not the same thing if done outside of relationship with and submission to Christ.)

As Western Christians, though, we are in danger of reducing the gospel to mere mental assent to a few points of doctrine, but if we actually look to the words of Jesus, the gospel is both broad and deep. It doesn’t only have a brain; it has arms and legs. Failing to embrace this could cost us dearly, and Jesus means that in the strongest possible terms.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And 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. For 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.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal 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 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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46, ESV

Let us not rush past this familiar passage.

I’ll try to imagine if I was reading these words fresh and had never seen them before. What would my immediate response be? I would leave what I was doing and go immediately to the nearest people who are hungry, thirsty, foreigners, poorly clothed, sick, and imprisoned. I would ask the Lord to lead me to those in need and prepare my heart to be generous with time and resources.

It’s time for believers to embrace even the inconvenient parts of what Jesus said. If we don’t, we are leaving out a critical piece of the gospel.

Doing so can have real, eternal ramifications.

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