Sheep and Goats
During the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He taught His followers to use what He entrusts to us in the way of spiritual gifts and opportunities to do things like read the Bible, pray, fellowship with other Christians, and worship Him. The challenge was and is to use those things until He returns, thereby pleasing Him, and gaining benefits for ourselves. The benefits of being known by Jesus as good and faithful servants and of being invited into the joy of His presence.
In this message, some specific ways of using what Jesus entrusts to us will be described, along with the rewards for using what He entrusts and the punishments for not doing what we are challenged to do. We will think about that before considering a loving act done to Jesus during the last week of His earthly ministry.
The first passage for today is Matthew 25:31-46.
When the Son of man comes in His glory, which refers to when Jesus will return. He left a few weeks after His resurrection, which occurred on the third day after His crucifixion and burial, which followed a few days after today’s passage. He left, but He will return. We are to be ready for His return whenever it happens.
When the Son of man returns, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
Before Him will be gathered all the nations of the world, and He will separate them. He will separate individuals within the nations. He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep at His right hand. The place of honor. The goats He will place at His left.
The King will speak first to those at His right hand. He will say, “Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
In a moment, an explanation of what those on His right hand will have done, but first, consider the wonderful words of joy and reward Jesus will use.
Come. He will invite those people into the joy of His presence.
Blessed of My Father. To be blessed means to be made holy or different. To be showered with divine favor. To be assured of God’s provision. What wonderful rewards for those on His right hand. The rewards of being provided for, favored, holy.
Inherit. To be an heir suggests being a family member. If we inherit the Lord’s kingdom, it means we are part of His family. We are His children. What a wonderful relationship that describes.
Prepared for you. Those on Jesus’ right hand will not have to build a kingdom or fight for it. Jesus will provide it for those people.
Which has been His plan from the foundation of the world. Since creation itself.
That is what those on Jesus’ right hand - the ones honored - will hear. Who are the ones on the right? Who are the ones who will rewarded? Those who, until He returns, use the gifts and the opportunities He gives each of His followers.
How will they have been used? Jesus will say, “For I was hungry and you gave Me food. I was thirsty and you gave Me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed Me. I was naked and you clothed Me. I was sick and you visited Me. I was in prison and you came to Me.”
Do we catch the commonalities in that list” Each item is something to help someone who is suffering, and each item is relatively easy to accomplish. A feast was not called for, but some food shared. A drink from time to time was shared. Just a friendly welcome can make a stranger feel comfortable. Robes and gowns are not needed by someone who has no clothing. Just something to cover up is appreciated. We may not have healing power ourselves, but we can look in on those who are sick. And there is no call for any of us to join someone in prison. A visit is what is called for. And I suggest there are all kinds of prisons, including the prisons of emotions that can stifle freedom.
Those who will be honored - those who will be rewarded - are those who are, until Jesus’ return, willing to serve others.
But notice how Jesus worded this. He claimed those on His right will have fed, watered, welcomed, clothed, visited, and come to Him, which will bring an interesting question from those people. “Lord, they will ask, when did we see You hungry and feed You or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and welcome You or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?”
Jesus will answer, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren [as you served other believers because you knew the importance of using gifts and opportunities I have given you], you did it to Me.”
As often as I read this passage, I am intrigued that those on Jesus’ right will not have any idea that by helping others, they were serving Jesus Himself, meaning their motives were pure. Pure in the sense they were more interested in helping others than in concentrating on how to impress Jesus for personal gain. They did impress Him, but their goal was to help others because the Lord gave them the gifts and opportunities needed to help.
Putting spiritual gifts and opportunities to use will be rewarded. That will be clear to those in the honored place of Jesus’ right.
But then He will address the ones on His left, described not as sheep, which is a positive description, but as goats.
Jesus will say to those at His left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Wow. What a contrast to what those on Jesus’ right will hear.
Not come, but depart from Me. Those on His left will be turned away from Jesus and His presence.
Not blessed of My Father, but cursed by Him. Condemned by Him.
Inherit, not His kingdom, but eternal fire, which refers to Hell. A place devoid of the Lord’s love, but filled with the hatred of Satan.
Why will those on Jesus’ left hand be punished in those ways? Jesus will explain, “For I was hungry and you gave Me no food. I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me. Naked and you did not clothe Me. Sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.”
The ones on Jesus’ left will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we did not minister to You? Had we seen You suffer, we certainly would have helped.”
Jesus will answer, “Truly, I say to you, as you did none of this to one of the least of these [as you did not help others with the gifts and opportunities you had], you did it not to Me.”
Those on Jesus’ left will go away into eternal punishment. How sad they will be.
But the ones on His right - those who will have been righteous - will go into eternal life. They will do so joyously.
Listen. What makes you, me, anyone a Christian is accepting Jesus as Savior. That is the first, foremost, most basic, most important step. If you have not yet accepted Him, you need to do so. You can do that right now by asking Him to forgive your sins and inviting Him into your heart and your life.
However, over and over and over again in His teachings the final week of His earthly ministry, the lesson - the challenge - is that we are to act out our faith in Him, the acting out seen in us using the gifts and opportunities He gives us. Using them to help others.
That is critical, possibly because it is by obeying Him that we are able to stay true to Him. A loyalty seen in serving others in His name. A loyalty that, if ignored, will cause us to drift away from Him, even to the point of not belonging to Him anymore, thereby putting us into the goat category.
* * * * *
Throughout this Lenten season, we have considered several teachings Jesus spoke during the last week of His earthly ministry. Teachings about the need to be ready whenever it is He returns, a teaching about troubled times coming before He returns, teachings to use whatever spiritual gift or gifts He gives us and to take advantage of the spiritual opportunities He presents to us, the rewards promised to those who use what He gives even in difficult times so we can be ready when He comes, and the punishments promised to those who are not ready when He returns.
Each of those teachings were and are important, even for us today. Then, as the week began to draw to a close, Jesus, with His disciples, had a meal at the house of a man named Simon, who had been a leper but had been healed from that disease.
We move to chapter 26 of Matthew, beginning with verse 6.
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to Him. Though not named by Matthew, she is identified elsewhere as Mary.
Shortly before Palm Sunday, Jesus had visited the home of Mary and her sister Martha. While there, Jesus brought their brother Lazarus back from death. Mary loved Jesus before that healing. She loved Him even more after He brought her brother back to life. She showed her love in the home of Simon the leper by taking an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment she had with her and pouring the ointment on Jesus’ head, doing that as He sat at the dinner table.
How large the flask was, we do not know, though I am guessing it did not contain a huge amount of ointment. I doubt Jesus was drenched with the ointment. That would have been uncomfortable.
But whatever the amount, it was very expensive. So expensive the oil was, according to John’s Gospel and Mark’s, estimated to have been worth 300 denarii. One denarius was what a common laborer made back then each working day, so 300 denarii was a year’s worth of wages.
Because of the value of the ointment, the disciples were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For the ointment could have been sold for a large sum, that amount given to the poor.”
Jesus, aware of what the disciples said, answered them,”Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to Me.”
Jesus added, “You always have the poor with you.” We know that is true, even today. I read in a commentary that a Jewish teaching of that time was that God allows the poor to be with us so we will always have opportunities to do good. But, Jesus said, “You will not always have Me.”
He then once again, as He had before, predicted His imminent death. Jesus said, “In pouring this ointment on My body, she has done it to prepare Me for burial.”
He then promised Mary a reward for using what she had to serve Him. “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
According to John, the disciple who was most vocal in criticizing Mary was Judas, who tried to make it sound as if he really cared about the poor, but who, in reality, was a thief who took funds from the group’s money box. If the ointment had been sold, the profit would have gone into the money box, which would have given Judas more to steal.
The ointment not being sold for money he could then steal was one of the reasons Judas, in the next paragraph of Matthew 26, went to the chief priests to strike a deal with them.
Judas asked the chief priests what they would give him if he delivered Jesus to them. They agreed to 30 pieces of silver, which they gave him then and there. From that moment, Judas sought an opportunity to betray Jesus.
* * * * *
As we know, Jesus was betrayed. That led to His arrest, which led to some trials, which led to Him being crucified. Throughout Lent we have, in addition to thinking about some of Jesus’ teachings, also considered some of the things He said as He was being crucified. The statement for today is recorded in John 19:28. It was just a two-word statement. “I thirst.”
Those two words are significant because they prove Jesus was human. Of course, Jesus was and is also God. He did and still does have a divine nature. In fact, He is 100% divine. But He also had a human nature. He was also 100% human. That does not work out mathematically, but He was, during His earthly ministry, both divine and human. The words “I thirst” prove His humanity, meaning He really did suffer as He hung on the cross.
I think He also suffered when Judas betrayed Him. And when Judas stole from the money box. And when all the disciples so often failed to learn as quickly as they might have. And when people even now do not prepare for His return by accepting Him and then using the gifts and opportunities He entrusts to us.
Let’s not cause Jesus to suffer. Let’s accept Him and use what He gives so we can be ready for when He returns so He will be able to put us at His right hand and say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Today’s closing song is hymn A Charge to Keep I Have. We will sing verses 1, 2, and 3.
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill,
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!
Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord prepare,
A strict account to give!
The benediction is based on verse 4. Lord, help us to watch for and pray for Your return. As we watch and pray and therefore stay ready for You, help us to rely on You alone. We need to trust You, acted out by using what You entrust to us in ways that will glorify You and help others. That is so important for if we do not trust You, we shall forever die. We want to live, now and forever. We want to be on Your right hand. Help us, please. Amen.