Sheep and Goats

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Matthew 25:31-46
SMAS -  9am Service Last Sunday before Advent
(20.11.11)
Given by Reverend Linda Liversidge

This passage begins by telling that Jesus when comes again He’ll come as a king, surrounded by angels and sitting on His royal throne. The people of all the nations will gather before Him. The phrase ‘all the nations’ refers to us - its meaning here is to the Gentiles. And as we gather before Him He is going to divide us up.

It may seem funny to us that He described people in this way - but Jesus never said things without a good reason. In those days people were surrounded by sheep and goats so they were a very good visual aid. The only thing is that for us today it may not at first seem so clear to us. We tend to think of sheep and goats as looking very different because that is how they look to us here in England. But then in Palestine in actual fact they didn't look so very different because their sheep then were dark and had longer hair so they looked a bit like goats anyway. So what Jesus was really saying then was that just as you might see a group of sheep and goats together and not really be able to see immediately what was what - so too with people.

They will also be all mixed up together and you can’t see by immediately looking at a group of people who are the righteous and who are not. It will only become really apparent at the day of judgement.

The righteous will be pronounced blessed and enter the Kingdom which has been prepared for them and the others, the goats, are sent away to eternal damnation. Notice that there is no middle ground between the saved and the lost. No-one makes it into a kind of no-man’s land. Those that are mixed up now living together will face ultimate division.

But what we really need to know if we are to be preparing for Jesus’ return as king and judge is how to He make that division? Indeed those whom He divided wanted to know the same thing!

Jesus says that those who were saved were those who had looked after Him - those who had given Him food and water, those who had visited Him, those who had made Him welcome and had looked after Him when He was sick. The surprised righteous people said that they hadn’t done that either - so Jesus tells them that they had done it to Him each time they had done to it to the least of his brothers. Often this is taken to mean that each time we do these things to anyone we’re doing it for Jesus - but that’s not really what the passage is saying. It is referring to the times that one of the Gentiles had cared for one of Jesus’ disciples. It is in the responding to one of Jesus’ brothers that Jesus Himself is served. Similar thinking to that of Paul referring to the church as the body of Christ with its least important members being important and indispensable.

And what does Jesus say to those who are not saved? The ultimate punishment - they are sent away from Jesus and cast into the fire that has been prepared for the Devil and his angels. It is important to note that the fire is not prepared for the people themselves but for the Devil. So that is not the way it is meant to be - that is not meant to be how humans end up - they only do so by going away from God and His purpose for their lives. Their wickedness and condemnation comes not so much because they are doing wrong as because they are NOT doing right. It is doing nothing that condemns. This cannot be stressed too much here - this passage is saying that is those who do nothing who are condemned.

So as we await the 2nd coming we must not be caught doing nothing. We must be found to be actively caring for those whom Jesus calls His ‘least important brothers’. Who are these ‘least important brothers’? They are those who have responded to Jesus and become His disciples. Those who have become less important in the world in order to serve Christ and in order to promote the gospel. Sometimes this will mean people like you and me - those of us who belong to the body of Christ - who know and love Christ and show Him in the world.

Always they will be people who in their discipleship are becoming more Christlike, more and more daily like the King they serve. And perhaps this is why Jesus refers to them as the least of His brothers - for this king we serve, follow and imitate did not so much look like a king in majestic garb but like a working shepherd. And it is He who will decide who among us are the sheep and who the goats. Whilst it is good for us to have helped those less fortunate this particular passage is referring to our support of those who actively go out in the service of Christ.

Wait with hope, yes, but active hope for it is those who do nothing who are condemned.