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.”
What as scene the Saviour paints in this last breath of teaching he will ever do (in extended words anyway) before he enters the betrayal, suffering and death he knows is coming. He is reaching his end so he speaks of the end in this famous parable.
I wonder how you hear it?
The day will surely come when Judge Jesus sits on his well-earned throne. He will call in every person to whom he has given life. Like a teacher announcing exam grades, a final verdict will be announced as to how our life has finally measured up. A final decision will be given regarding whether we enter continuing and surpassing joy with Jesus or are separated from his love and joy – a dreadful prospect.
Message? – Jesus is judge of everyone. There will be a day of reckoning for all we do and don’t do. If you have not done enough good: turned your back on people asking for money, ignored an obvious need, did not support that cause, and just was not good enough, the Shepherd and Final Judge will draft you out of the family forever.
I feel exhausted, deflated, bound up in guilt and fear and generally completely sunk just thinking about it! How about you?
At face value in this grand scene, we might hear just a simple moral tale that is meant to light a fire under our actions and get us to do more, carry more water, get more blankets, sign up for prison visiting, give more of our clothes to the Community Store and generally be extremely active in making sure we do enough to enough people for long enough to make the right pen.
But there are two things that change this seemingly simple moral tale from a mere attempt to get us to try harder…
1. The One telling the story
Always remember with parables, that the One who speaks the parable is as important as the parable itself. This Jesus whom we know speaking this – just before he will willingly lay down his life for sheep…. More of this in a minute…
- The Judge is also the Saviour and he knows more than we do.
The thing that is so surprising in this picture is that everyone is so surprised!
Both the sheep and the goats are so surprised at the judgement they receive. They seem to have no clue that in their acts of kindness and compassion they were serving Jesus, and in their ignoring, blaming, judging and self-orientated life, they were ignoring Jesus.
In surprise both the sheep and the goats ask their question.
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
‘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?’
The king responds.
‘…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
‘…whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Whatever you make of this judgement scene of Jesus, you have to say that what we do and don’t do is very important.
It begs the question: Should we join the rest of the world and quite a few Christians and believe that the basis of our peace with God is actually us after all – about us doing enough to make it in?
See, what we actually do or don’t do for others shows our heart doesn’t it?
Jesus said as much prior to this.
“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:20-22)
And on the positive side;
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
As we ignore, blame, withhold mercy or focus on ourselves we betray a heart centred that way. As we give, sacrifice, submit, and serve, we betray a heart that is that way.
So, that cup of water, that spare blanket, that second hand shirt, that visit is what comes from a heart filled with the love and acceptance of Jesus. Jesus is saying that he is in those actions and words of love for another, however surprising you may find this in yourselves or in another.
To our surprise, the person who does these things in real time is the one who is both receiving the love of the Saviour and doing the love of the One who names himself “Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
As we said before, the One who speaks the parable is as important as the parable itself. The One speaking this scene of the final verdict on our lives that surely will come is Jesus, the Good Shepherd of whom Ezekiel spoke.
11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, …. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. (Ezekiel 34:11-13)
Friends, when the sky went black and the ground shook and the temple curtain was ripped in two, he showed the world of which he is ultimate judge that he loves the world.
As he gives his sheep authority to forgive each other, baptised sinners into his family and feeds sinners with his own body and blood he shows over and over that surely he wants the sheep pen to be innumerable and the goat pen to be very, very small.
Is your life really about being good so as to make the right pen? No. Our life together is being loved by the king of love and doing the same for all in need, the just and the unjust, the wrong and the right.
As this Shepherd enters the poverty, the shame, the darkness, the sin, the violence of us all, he calls us to do the same and not return these things in kind, but to be in these with his joy, with his promises, with his new life, with his great love. That is where he lives. That is where we will find him and serve him and be him for others.
This is a word that shows us what matters until the day of our resurrection – His love and ours.
Read the Matthew 25 text carefully trying to imagine the full dimensions of the picture Jesus paints.
What stands out to you?
What challenges you?
What comforts you?
I said when interpreting the parables, “the one speaking the parable is as important as the parable itself”.
In this light, read the first few sentences of Chapter 26 which immediately occur after our text. What light do the words of Jesus about his imminent death shed on to our text?
Read the Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24 text. What light does this shed on this picture Jesus paints?
How can it be that both the sheep and goats are very surprised at the final judgement they receive? What is Jesus saying here?
Is it that they we will be surprised who is in the sheep pen because Jesus knows much more about us and others than we can know?
• Is it that the point is not try and earn our salvation by chalking up good works points but to simply do them out of a heart filled with Jesus’ love and motivated by love no matter what it earns us?
• Is it that he is telling us that he considers what we actually do as being very important and that the Christian faith is about actually living and doing, not just talking and sitting around?
• Share your thoughts on these and other possibilities Jesus is speaking of in your opinion…
The two things that make this parable or picture more then only a motivator for doing good to others are:
1. The one speaking the parable, and
2. That Jesus is Saviour as well as Judge
Now read the gospel text again from the faith that this is Jesus our Good Shepherd speaking of the end as he now faces his human/earthly end.
What stands out to you?
What challenges you?
What comforts you?
I said, “As this Shepherd enters the poverty, the shame, the darkness, the sin, the violence of us all, he calls us to do the same and not return these things in kind, but to be in these with his joy, with his promises, with his new life, with his great love. That is where he lives. That is where we will find him and serve him and be him for others.
This is word that shows us what matters until the day of our resurrection – love”.
What does this mean to you and how you are living out your faith in Jesus? Share your thoughts…
Jesus, help us to receive and give your self-sacrificing love so that the sheep pen is large and the goat pen very small. Amen!