The Matthew Series - Sheep and Goats
Matthew 25:31-46 New International Version (NIV) The Sheep and the Goats 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” We come to another interesting teaching of Jesus, a parable on what he says the Kingdom of heaven will be like, and in this parable we are confronted with the reality of judgment, of
punishment for those who don’t do something and reward for those who do. Now, in terms of our modern day, the idea of “social justice” resonates with our cultural “zeitgeist” (spirit of the time). Caring for the down and out, and helping out those in need, resonates deeply within this current cultural milieu. Punishment, and casting out into hell-fire does not sit so well with us. We get questions today of how can a loving God send people to hell for eternity; that sounds excessively cruel. So, we must be aware, in our modern world-view, we have a bias to one side of what Jesus is talking about, while having a blind spot to the other side of what he is talking about. And unfortunately, that bias can blind us to the truth of the message of this parable. So let’s look at what Jesus is talking about here. He has two groups of people, one sheep the other goats. He has two destinations for these two groups; one to his right, the other to his left, and those on the right he brings into his rest and those on his left he casts into the “perpetual (or everlasting) fire” as it is spoken of in the Greek. If we are to understand this passage let us look at the reason they are on the right and the reason they are on the left. So starting off with… 1. The reason they are on the right Jesus calls his sheep to himself and blesses them because they essentially cared for those who were hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and those who are imprisoned. He blesses them because they cared. Now, you might be tempted to say, okay, therefore the standard of salvation is caring for others. In fact, many have tried to make this passage and many others like it conclude that the sign of salvation, or even worse the way you are saved is by caring for others. I want to show you, tonight – from the passage – that this simply is not the case. In fact, it is the complete opposite of that idea. Human nature can take something noble, something good, like caring for the unfortunate and turn it into an evil. It has been attributed to Aristotle the Greek Philosopher stated 2500 years ago that excessive virtue becomes vice. In other words, we as human beings have this unique capacity to take something virtuous, something good and become so overtaken by the need of that good that it becomes an evil in the world. We can believe in the good of something (even something good) so much that every means justifies the end. For example if we have to hurt even kill a few people so that many more will be helped, well the end justifies the evil means. Stalin, the Soviet Dictator was famous for saying a single death is a tragedy a million deaths is merely a statistic. Mao in China, killed through famine and murder more than 45 million people in four years. And he justified that though his “great leap forward.” Now you might think you are above that, be we all are capable of justifying evil to achieve good. What marks the sheep out is that they were not going out to “save the word” they were not going out to make a difference, or to earn some righteous act through what they were doing. In fact when the King tells them that they help Him in, they were confused? And reply back, when did we do this? His reply when you were doing it for the least.
The reason they were deemed righteous was because they were unaware of their good. I’ll get back to this at the end of the message. But for the sake of clarity true righteousness is a righteousness that comes from not trying to prove yourself righteous. It is an internal reality rather than a “look how good I am” reality. In a sense true righteousness is self-forgetful. It is something done simply for the sake of the other. Next we see… 2. The reason they are on the left Now, you might be thinking sure it was just because of the opposite of what you just said about the people on the right, and to that I answer yes, but I want to look deeper into their motivation. To expose us and show how we can change. So, what caused these “unrighteous” to miss it? Well simply put they were so self-focused that they did not even notice that they were not helping the least. Jesus confronts them in their lack of care for Him, and they respond, but when did we not care about you? Get the subtlety of that interaction. They thought themselves as those who would have sought out to help Jesus. However, through their inaction they proved themselves not. And this is the profound implication to this text; who here thinks of themselves as unloving? No-one. In fact there is not a person in the world (I believe) who would classify themselves as unloving. The problem is love, real love is purely other focused. It has the best of others as the highest goal. We are all reciprocal lovers. We love as long as there is a payoff. But the differences between the “sheep” and the “goats” the one on Jesus’ right and his left, was both were unaware of the consequences of what they were doing; and it was the inner drive of actual love that made the one righteous and the other not. If I am kind to you to get something; you would feel used. I’ll illustrate, image I came to you and was really friendly and nice, and gave you some money to help you out and just made you feel like I cared. That would make you feel good right, like ah someone cares for me. But, what if afterwards you found out that the only reason I was doing it; was because someone said I’ll give you a thousand rand to be nice to that person; how would that make you feel. Used. Cheapened. Well, if your care for others is self-focused or for the reward of righteousness, aren’t you using others? And that is the point; motives matter! Our righteousness, our care for others has to come from an inner love for those people. It cannot be for a reward. The goats we looking out how they could be good, the sheep weren’t and the difference was profound. All this leads to… 3. The reason its starts with the least of the brothers Jesus, to both groups, identifies himself with “the least of these my brothers.” This is an interesting phrase because it identified the mark of Christian love and how it grows.
What I mean here, is that you might be tempted to think, because of this message; that my task is to go out there and just care for others, especially, those who can’t help themselves. The problem is; what we have just identified; “motives matter”. Ask yourself why you want to go and help others; and many of you, if you are honest, is so that I avoid the “hot place”. Which means that your motives are wrong you are still using people and you are still destined for the “hot place” too. You might be asking, well then how is this even possible? How can we even hope to get to a place where we are perfectly going around loving the least in society purely for those people. Well the Bible teaches us that true godliness, true righteousness is a gift that grows. It is called fruit, we are commanded to walk after the Spirit, we are called to grow in righteousness. And this is the point; this is a natural reality that grows up within the community of Grace (the church) and then overflows into all the world. 1 John 4:20 states that; Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. In other words the sign of a heart that has been changed by grace is greater and greater love and care for the brothers and sisters (the church) these people here. 2 Peter 1 Peter writes about how adding to faith, will lead to goodness and he runs through a list which ends with in verse 7 “to your godliness add Christian affection; and to your Christian affection add love.” In other words as we love each other in the same love that Christ has given us, so we will learn to love others truly as end in themselves. This makes perfect sense, because you and I were made to love. We feel best when we do, we thrive on it. however, outside of grace we simply don’t have the tools to do it and sustain it properly. However, as we see how much Christ has done for us, even though we are failures and sinners, so we learn and grow in our ability to love the difficult, the unlovely, even the enemy. Because as we grow in the knowledge of the grace of Jesus Christ we see ourselves more in these people. I, to God was (and am) the difficult, the unlovely, even the enemy, but he loves me. He loves me to death. therefore I can learn to love others. In Luke 7 Jesus says to the pharisees; “He who is forgiven little, loves little, but he who is forgiven much loves much. Our love for others (our real them-orientated love) is the outflow our our realisation of the debt of love we owe. So look again to the Cross and see how much love you owe, let that flow undeservingly towards each other here, and it will overflow to the whole world.