After speaking to his disciples of the time when he would leave them, Jesus went on to prepare them for his eventual return and, if we read Matthew 25:31-46, he talks of judgment.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another”. (25:31, 32)
Now, we may have mixed feelings about judgment. God, judging others, yes! by all means; but us?
Perhaps we are happier to think about the love of God: the care and compassion of God, but God as Judge, we don’t like to dwell on that.
But, whether we like it or not, judgement is something Jesus spoke about to his disciples and, being his disciples of this age, he speaks to us.
So, what separated the sheep from the goats: the righteous from the others? The King said, “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, 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”. (25:35, 36)
It was an answer that came as a surprise to everyone, because no one could remember ever seeing the King far less doing anything for Him.
The penny only dropped when it was realised that the treatment given or refused to those in difficulty represented their response to the King.
The righteous, the ones who found favour and were blessed, were those who helped others. The ones condemned were those who cared only for self.
Now, right away, we should be clear that this is not about building up a good credit balance in our heavenly bank account. God doesn’t work that way. We are not justified by our own actions and efforts, no matter how good we may be. Instead, it is by the Grace of God.
Ephesians 2: 8, 9 “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works”. It is a gift of God.
A re-occurring theme in scripture is God encouraging His people to help others: the weak, the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, in Society.
Isaiah (1:17) for instance, “Learn to do right. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”.
Micah (6:8), “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.
A little earlier Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbour as yourself”. (Matthew 22:37)
Jesus the Son, is the human image of God the Father. He gave us a living example of God’s love at work in the world. The example we are given is of helping others. Christ is, at times, referred to as the Servant King. Serving others is a consequence of following Christ.
Those who were sheep and freely offered help were so used to doing that, it had become second nature. It was a way of life. They saw need and automatically responded.
The goats, on the other hand, are people who have perfected the art of doing nothing. They won’t deliberately hurt or harm anyone. Equally, they won’t help others survive or succeed either.
They are the type who may say, “I’ve got my own problems without bothering about anyone else”.
The sheep, those judged righteous, they did something. They were participants in Christ’s work in the world. It was simply their faith at work.
The Goats, those who were condemned for their inaction and refusal to help, they were merely spectators.
Jesus asks his disciples to be ready to meet him at any time. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him”.
The questions we have to ask ourselves are ‘how prepared will we be; how active have we been with our God-given talents? How faithfully have we followed Christ’s example of his self-forgetting, self-sacrificing love?
So, what are we? Are we Sheep or are we Goats?
Let us pray.
Almighty God, You are our Maker and our Protector; our strength and our shield. You reach out to us and invite us to come closer. In Your son Jesus, You set before us a living example of your love. As he reached out to all, may we, by placing our hand in his, be enabled to reach out to one another with greater love and better understanding.
You call us to Your service: to be Your eyes, ears and hands in this, Your world. So, we pray that You open our eyes to see as You see. Open our hands to offer Your help. Open our ears to the gentle whisper of Your Spirit and follow what You say.
O God, our Heavenly Father, give us a vision of our world as Your love would make it: and give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen, and may we grasp the opportunity to share in Christ’s work in the World.