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The sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au
  1. Consequences

Consequences – there are always consequences to any decision we make or action we take. Sometimes we put off making decisions or doing something because we are not sure what will come of it. But even putting off a decision has its own set of consequences. We might decide to put off telling someone some news that that we know will make them sad or perhaps angry with us only to find out that down the track that we’ve only made matters much worse than what they would have been if we had said something in the first place.

Every decision and everything we do or not do has consequences whether we like it or not. It isn’t just the big decisions like whether we marry or not whether we go to university or not or whether we take that job or stay where we are that change the course of our lives, it is the choices that we make moment by moment that inevitably added up to where we find ourselves ending up in life. It is all the little things that we choose to do or not do moment by moment that have consequences and that reveal our hearts what we have been all about in life.

Today in the gospel of Matthew we see the dire consequences of not being ready for the coming of the Lord. Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at what the Lord Jesus told his disciples about being ready for his coming again at the end of this age. He told them to keep watch because no one knows they day or hour. He told them that he would come when they would least expect him and that it would be so sudden that it would catch many unprepared. There would be two women working at a grindstone and one would be taken and the other left, two men in the field, one taken and the other left. Life would be going on just as it always has – there will be no warning. People will be eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage and his coming would take many by complete surprise.

Over the last few weeks, we have looked at the parables that Jesus told the disciples to prepare them for his coming. In the parable of wise and faithful servants we saw that we are called to be faithful stewards of the Lord who care for our fellow servants while we wait for his coming. In the parable of the ten virgins, we’ve saw that some who perhaps appeared like they were ready, won’t be prepared for the long wait. In the parable of the three servants and the talents we also saw that those who are ready are those who will have faithfully served the Lord and their lives will bear fruit and be productive.

  1. When Jesus returns

Today we come to the end of what Jesus had to stay to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. In verses 31 to 46 he continued to explain what those who will be ready are like and what will happen on the day that he returns and the consequences for those who aren’t ready for him on that day. Sometimes these verses are referred to as the parable of the sheep and the goat, but strictly speaking Jesus uses a simile in which Jesus compares what will happen when he returns at the end of the age with what a shepherd might do at the end of the day.

  • He returns as this world’s judge.

The first thing he made clear was that when he returns, he would return as this world’s judge and king. When the end of this age comes it will be a day of judgment and for some this will have dire consequences.

Matthew 25:31-33

“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[i].

Although not explicitly stated by Jesus when Jesus spoke of the coming of the Son of Man he was speaking about his own coming. The context makes this clear. What had prompted this discussion in the first place was the disciple’s question in chapter 24 about the end and what would be the signs of Jesus’ coming again (24:3). Chapters 24 and 25 answer this question. The verses that we are looking at today conclude with Jesus telling them what will happen on the day he comes in all his glory as this world’s king. Hence the throne and reference to the king in verse 34.  The king will sit on his glorious throne and all the nations will be gathered before him and it will be judgment day for the nations. This why you need to be ready.

  • He will separate the sheep from the goats

On that day people will be separated one from another. The Lord likens what will happen to what would have been very familiar to many; a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. I’ve read, that often sheep and goats were allowed to graze together during the day, but at night when the weather was cold the shepherd would separate them because goats were more susceptible to the cold. They needed to be herded together to stay warm[ii]. Whatever the case people will be separated into these two groups on the day of judgment. The sheep will be place on the right and the goats on the left.

But what is the significance of being on the king’s right or being on his left? Well, the significance of being on the right or the left is explained in what the king had to say to these two groups of people when he delivered his judgment.

  • What the king said to the sheep

The king first addressed those on his right, the sheep, first.

Matthew 25:34-36

 “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.’

  • They are blessed for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

The ones on right of the king are those who are blessed by the Father. They are blessed because they are those who inherit the kingdom of heaven which has been prepared for them since the creation of the world. It’s something that they have had to wait but they are now receiving.

But what surprised those on the king’s right is the explanation he gave for them being there on his right. The Lord told them that he had been hungry, and they had given him something to eat, thirsty and they had given him something to drink. He’d been a stranger and they had invited him. He’d been sick and they had looked after him and in prison and they had visited him. Those on his right reply they don’t know when they did those things for Jesus and they asked him, when did they visit him in prison or give him something to drink or eat etc? It’s the king’s reply that explained how they did all this for him without even being aware of it.

Matthew 25:40

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.’

The Lord Jesus explained that the reason that they were on the right was the way that they had loved and cared for the least of his brothers and sisters. What they had done for these, they had done for him. But who is Jesus referring to here? Who are his brothers and sisters who are hungry and thirsty and or needy clothes or are sick and in prison?

Some would argue that he is talking about anyone who is hungry or poor and it’s how we treated the needy of this world that gives us entry into the kingdom of God. One writer has written, “The lesson is this-that God will judge us in accordance with our reaction to human need.” The same writer went on to say that “the parable is teaching us about the help which we must give” and what he seems to end up suggesting is that to help anyone in need is to be helping Jesus.

Now I’m not saying that the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about being generous and caring for the poor and needy in this world. But to better understand the nuance of what Jesus was saying here we must ask ourselves firstly who was Jesus referring to when he spoke about his brothers and sisters in this passage?

In the gospel of Matthew apart from a literal reference to Mary and Joseph’s other naturally born children, when the Lord spoke about his brothers (and sisters) in the gospel of Matthew he was always speaking about his disciples. In chapter 12, when Jesus’ mother and brothers came to Jesus wanting to speak to him, he replied…

Mathew 12:48-51

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

At the end of the gospel in chapter 28 Jesus told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary after they discovered the empty tomb to not be afraid. He then told them, “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10).  The people that Jesus referred to in this parable as his brothers where his disciples and the least of them seems to be a reference to those who were going through hardship or persecution and were hungry and imprisoned because of their faith. They were those who visited them in prison and fed them and clothed them because they loved their brothers and sisters.

When Jesus sent his disciples out in Matthew chapter 10 to proclaim the message of the kingdom, he warned them that they would be handed over and flogged, arrested, and persecuted and hated because of him and that they would have to flee from one place to the next. The last thing that Matthew has told us that Jesus said to them before sending them out was…

Matthew 10:42

42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.

This is the way that you can spot the sheep from the goats. The Lord Jesus told his disciples that …

John 13:34

As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another.

Our love and care for our brothers and sisters testifies to fact that we belong to Jesus. The Lord Jesus wasn’t saying that such love is the ground or the  by which we are saved, and it is that which makes us worthy of such inheritance. That would be to deny the gospel and what Jesus said that he had come to do – to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28), to pour out his blood for the forgiveness of sin (Matt 26:28). But genuine love for our brothers and sisters functions as evidence that faith is real and genuine. It testifies to the face that we are saved. “By their fruit”, Jesus said, “you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20).  It is just another one of those things that characterise those who are ready to meet the Lord. It isn’t what makes you a sheep rather than a goat, but it is a way that you can tell the sheep from the goats. It’s a distinguishing feature of sheep.

The apostle John wrote …

1 John 3:10

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

In the same chapter he will go on to say…

1 John 3:17

17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

Love for our brothers and sisters on the last day will be one of things that mark us out as belonging to the kingdom. It isn’t what believers do to be saved, but having been saved the Spirit of God begins his work in us to change us so that we are more like Christ. If the love of God is in us we  learn to love and serve our brothers as Christ has loved us. When Jesus is talking about the least of his brothers and sister who are hungry and thirsty and naked and sick and in prison he is talking about the neediest and most persecuted among his disciples.

  • What the king said to the goats

On that day it will be easy to tell apart the sheep from the goats. Those on the king’s right are blessed by the Father for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But to those on his left the consequence of being unprepared for the coming of this world’s true King are dire. Listen to what the King said to the goats.

Matthew 25:41-45

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.

The goats are “cursed”. They come under God’s judgment, and they are excluded from the kingdom. As suggested in some of the earlier parables they will be shut out from the King’s presence. They won’t be let in. We are told theirs will be the eternal fire, the punishment that is prepared for the devil and his angels who have rebelled against God.

Again, like the sheep, it doesn’t seem like the goats are surprised as to where they’ve ended up. What they were surprised about was when exactly had they refused to help Jesus. But Jesus told them that when they had not done it for the least of these (his brothers) they had not done it for him. As Jesus told the disciples when he sent them as his messengers proclaiming the kingdom of God…

Mathew 10:40

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

The Lord Jesus is not teaching how people are forgiven and saved but what those who belong to the kingdom are ready to meet their king are like and what those who aren’t are like – how you tell the difference between the sheep and the goats. The sheep love their brothers and sisters and when the other sheep in need they don’t do nothing. Rather they help them. And Jesus says what you do for these you are doing for me. The way you have loved your brother and sister and responded to the needs and helped and cared for them is a sign of whether the love of God is in you. And whether you’re ready for that day when you will have to give an account or not.

As in the passage we read earlier from the letter that John wrote, one way that you can distinguish (tell apart) the children of God from those who belong to the devil is whether they love their brothers and sisters or not. It is our attitude towards other believers and whether we take pity on them especially those in need. They way you respond to your brethren in need is evidence one way of the other as to whether the love of God is in you. We need to examine ourselves and ask ourselves ‘What has been our attitude towards other believers?’  Are they just a nuisance? Are just they something that we must put up? Do they not register in our thinking at all?

We ought not deceive ourselves. Jesus warned his disciples in the sermon on the Mount. He said that many will say to him on that day, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, (or get up and preach in your name), didn’t we drive out demons in your name or perform miracles in your name. And the Lord will say to them go away, I never knew you.” (see Matthew 7:22-23).

  1. Consequences

It’s in these final words of Jesus to his disciples on the mount of Olives that we see the awful consequences of not be ready to meet the Lord when he comes. For Jesus has told us what happens to the sheep and the goats on the last day.

While the sheep on the king’s right inherit the kingdom that they have been waiting for, we also see what awaits the goats. These are those who were not ready to stand before their King on the day of judgment. While the sheep are told to come and enjoy the blessing of the Father. The goats are those who are cursed. They fall under God’s judgment, and they are told to depart from Jesus. There is no place for them in the eternal kingdom of God. They miss out. They go away to eternal punishment, while the righteous to eternal life (v46).

This is why you need to be prepared for while the coming of the Lord Jesus means blessing for some it has dire consequences for others. If you have never repented and turned to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and acknowledged him as your shepherd and your king (his is the one to lead you and the one to whom you are to bow your knee to) then you ought to do it today, for you don’t know the day of the hour of his coming. For those who have repented already let’s continue to grow in love for one another as his disciples out of love for him who gave himself for us. Let’s pray that we might know his love more and more.

At the end of day, a shepherd that had to separate the sheep from the goats would have had no problem doing so. He could pick the sheep from the goats. So, to at the end of this age when the Lord Jesus comes in all his glory there will be no confusion. So, heed the warning that Jesus gave his disciples when he began to talk about his coming again in chapter 24…

Matthew 24:42

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.







[i] The New International Version. (2011). Zondervan. Unless otherwise indicated all quotations from the Bible will be taken from the NIV 2011 edition.

[ii] Don Carson, “Matthew – chapters 13 through 28” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, page 521