Daily Bread for Thursday March 22
The common thread for today is God's concern for his people. Aaron, the high priest had breastplate that was to wear over his heart with twelve stones each for the twelve sons of Israel. When he ministered in the tabernacle on their behalf he was to remember in his heart as he was there representative before God. He also had a gold plate attached to his forehead as a reminder that he was bearing the guilt for them.
In the lesson in Matthew, Jesus tells the story of the sheep and the goats. The sheep and goats will be separated at Jesus' return one to heaven and the other to eternal separation from God. The test for this will be whether when he (the King in the story as representative of Jesus) was in need (hungry, thirsty, unclothed, sick or in prison) the sheep looked after him but did not.
Then comes the when they ask when we're you in this condition. Jesus answers, "Whatever you have done to the least of these you have done unto me."
So the key to interpreting these verses is who is the "least of these"? The answers runs the gamut from anyone in need to Jesus' disciples. The challenge here is that we do not slip back into a works righteousness for how we get to heaven.
We are clearly saved by grace through faith so how do we interpret these verses. In the context of the overall teaching in Matthew Jesus is teaching against the Pharisees and their pridefulness. He is also equipping the disciples to carry on the mission before he leaves. So it would make sense that he is warning the leaders and others to not reject the disciples teaching or meeting their needs.
It is also generally a good reminder that as we help anyone in need it actually may be Jesus in disguise. Since God loves all equally this makes sense.