“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
My friend Craig Phillips was a 27-year-old rising star in Chicago’s corporate world. His natural drive and determination landed him a premium position at a Fortune 500 company in the Loop—Chicago’s business district. Early in his career, he encountered Jesus on the way to work.
In his own words, Craig says, “One morning I was on my way to my beautiful corporate office with my nice clothes and my nice tie on and my expensive shoes, and I walked by this alley and saw this broken man lying underneath an elevator vent where the hot air was coming out for some warmth.” Chicago, like most metropolitan centers, is a curious mix of the very elite and the very poor, so Craig had encountered poverty and brokenness every day on the way to work. But this time, something stopped him in his tracks.
“I couldn’t go any further,” Craig continues. “I turned around and walked back in the alley. I went up to that man and asked, ‘Is that you, Jesus?’ I knew it wasn’t Jesus, but I knew that that is where Jesus would be.”
That encounter transformed Craig’s understanding of what it meant to walk with Jesus, freeing him from materialism and focusing him on the eternal. It sparked a life of service to Jesus, leading Craig to found two churches and compelling him for decades to volunteer at the Wayside Cross Mission in the suburbs of Chicago.
He had discovered a truth that, quite frankly, we can only realize if we take the instruction given in Matthew 25:31-46 seriously. In profound, yet simple words, Jesus tells His disciples that in their service to the broken and marginalized—the hungry, the imprisoned, the sick, and the naked—they will encounter Him. Think about that. The moment a lovingly prepared sandwich or cup of hot soup is passed to a homeless person in Christ’s name, the service is rendered to Jesus Himself!
If we could grasp this truth, I think it would radically reconfigure the way we view opportunities for service. When we see the stranded motorist with a flat tire, we would ask the question Craig asked, “Is that you, Jesus?” Or to the single parent in our neighborhood who needs some assistance with childcare we would say, “Is that you, Jesus?” The individual who is physically ravaged and socially isolated by AIDS would hear us ask, “Is that you, Jesus?” Service in the name of Christ no longer is a duty to be checked off our spiritual task list. It is an opportunity to encounter and minister to our Savior!
By the way, Craig is in his late eighties and still volunteers regularly with the Wayside Cross Mission in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. I hear from him regularly, and in a recent letter he reminded me all over again that our call to know Christ through service has no time limit or expiry date. “Love causes us to have no bars and no exclusions when we see someone hurting,” he wrote.
It’s something that Craig discovered in the Loop one day and has been living out ever since. Jesus is ready and waiting all around us. All we need to do is stop in our tracks, reach out, and serve in His name.
- What needs were brought to mind as you thought about Matthew 25:1-46 today? Take a few minutes to write them down.
- Look back over the list of needs. How does seeing each of those needs as an opportunity to encounter Christ transform your attitude about service?
- Focus on at least one of those needs. In prayer, commit to following through on addressing that situation as a ministry to Christ in the next week.