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Of Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46)

February 13, 2022 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)

Topic: One Body: Love One Another, The Church, One Mission: Until I Come Passage: Matthew 25:31–46

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Children's Lesson (Click Here) 

I. True Treasure

As we dig down into the 'mine' of God's word this morning, let's remember the true treasure that awaits us. To use the words of Psalm 19...

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; [8] the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; [9] the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. [10] More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold...

Doesn't that sound good? Let look together at what God has revealed, specifically at a passage from Our Bible Reading Plan, Matthew 25:31-46.

 

II. The Passage: “The Least of These My Brothers” (25:31-46)

Sometimes this passage is referred to as the “Parable of the Sheep and Goats”. But it really isn't a parable. Jesus does use this simile of the shepherd in verse 32, but that's about it. So if it isn't a parable, what is it? Well, let's figure that out by digging into the text. Now, instead of reading straight through this entire passage, let's break it down into sections. Let's start with verses 31-33. These are the words of Jesus...

 

1. Separating the Nations in Judgment (vs. 31-33)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. [33] And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

To rightly understand the point of this entire section, we need to make sure we first understand the context. If we were to 'rewind the tape' to the end of chapter 24, we'd discover that Jesus has been talking with his disciples about his return and the end of this age. As he states in Matthew 24:44... Therefore you also must be ready... To stress that practical application, Jesus, beginning in 24:45, provides three parables regarding readiness for his return.

The first parable (in 24:45-51) is about servants entrusted with certain household responsibilities while the master of the house is away. The second parable (in 25:1-13) is about ten brides-maids, some of whom were and some of whom were not ready to meet the groom and the rest of the wedding party when they came at night. Finally, like the first parable, the third parable (in 25:14-30) describes a master going away on business, but before he leaves, he entrusts some of his money to his servants, so they can make profit with it while he's away.

So if Jesus is preparing his disciples (and every reader) for his coming, clearly v. 31 describes what will happen when he comes. Why must we be ready for the return of Christ? Because when He comes, he will judge. This is not a new topic in Matthew's Gospel. Jesus made this clear in several places, including 16:27, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

 

2. Blessed as They Were a Blessing (vs. 34-36)

So if we continue reading in our main passage, we discover something important about this judgment, specifically, how the coming King will separate “the sheep from the goats”. v. 34...

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 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.’

Did you see how those designated by Jesus as “blessed by my Father” are those who have been a blessing to the needy? Who are the needy? In general, I think we could say the needy man is the one who is “hungry... thirsty... a stranger... naked... sick... [and] in prison”. Now, please don't miss how those descriptions of neediness are emphasized in this passage. Each of those six terms is repeated three more times in this section (in vs. 37-39, 42-43, and v. 44).

Is this a new emphasis in terms of what God has revealed? Not at all. The OT speaks in many places about the righteous person who “does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment” (Ezekiel 18:16). The book of Proverbs reminds us that “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (14:31) and David wrote in Psalm 41:1, “Blessed is the one who considers the poor.”

But what is stunning about this emphasis is that Jesus identifies himself as the one who was “hungry... thirsty... a stranger... naked... sick... [and] in prison”. What exactly does He mean?

 

3. The Least of These My Brothers (vs. 37-40)

Let's look at how verses 37-40 actually help us answer that question. Jesus continues there...

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? [38] And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? [39] And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ [40] And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Clearly, the “righteous” in this passage are as shocked and confused as any of us would be. “Surely, we would have recognized Jesus if we had actually met him, let alone blessed him in these ways... right?” Notice how Jesus explains what he means in verse 40. It wasn't literally Jesus to whom they ministered, but it was men and women with whom Jesus closely identifies; so much so, they are called “brothers” and sisters.

Who is Jesus talking about here? He's talking about his followers. As Jesus said in 12:49-50... And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." And as Jesus told the apostles before sending them out on their first mission in Matthew 10... "Whoever receives you receives me... (10:40a). Two verses later, Jesus made a statement that sounds a lot like what we have here in chapter 25. Matthew 10:42, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward." And it's that language that sets us up for chapter 18:5, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Jesus isn't talking about a literal child. As the context makes clear, He's talking about the disciple who is walking in childlike humility. This description corresponds to the title “little ones” in Matthew 10:42.

But please don't miss the points being emphasized in these verses. 1) Jesus identifies with his people. He is present in, with, and among them. 2) There is blessing promised to those who care for His people, because 3) we are actually blessing Jesus when we bless his disciples. It's interesting how the OT echoes these same points in Proverbs 19:17... Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.

 

4. Neglecting God and His People (vs. 41-46)

But these same points are also the basis for the indictment we find in verses 41-46. We read...

Then he [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. [42] For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, [43] 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.’ [44] Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ [45] Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ [46] And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

So who are these at Jesus' left hand? Separated as goats from the sheep? They are those who had the opportunity to care for disciples of Jesus who were in need, but did not do so. In fact, I believe we can be even more specific. Consider the kind of people Jesus describes in 7:21–23...

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

So the separating described there is among all those who say, “Lord, Lord”. Jesus went on to explain this same kind of separation in 13:41–43, where weeds are separated from the wheat...

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, [42] and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [43] Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

This separating is exactly what we find in Matthew 25, where we were told that the King “will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

What we have here is a separation of true Christians from false Christians. Among all the nations there will be some who, in the words of Titus 1:16, “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” That's exactly Christ's point. These false disciples wrongly focus on that which reflects their own priorities and a worldly heart. In contrast, genuine disciples focus on that which reflects the priorities and heart of God... because... their hearts have been changed!

Please hear this: in all likelihood, the homeless man at the intersection is not Jesus. In all likelihood, neither is the incarcerated nephew of your neighbor or the impoverished child you saw on that gut-wrenching commercial. It's more likely that these are simply people who need Jesus. But they are not Jesus in the way Christ talks about in Matthew 25, verses 40 and 45. Contrary to popular opinion, when Christ describes separating the sheep from the goats, his focus is not on charitable works and the needy 'out there'. His focus is on what genuine faith genuinely looks like within the church. Where can we find Jesus? He is present in His people... all of his people, even “the least of these my brothers”.

 

III. Jesus Among Us

So how can we be prepared for the return of Jesus? How can we be ready to stand before His throne? We can be clear about what genuine faith genuinely looks like within the church. Scripture teaches that we are saved through faith alone, by God's grace alone. We are not saved because of our love for the least of these. Our love for the least of these is evidence that we have been saved by God's grace. The Apostle John would later explain this clearly...

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers... [16] By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us [there's the gospel!], and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. [17] But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? [18] Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (I John 4:14, 16-18)

Isn't that exactly what Jesus has highlighted in Matthew 25:31-46? But please think about what this will mean for you personally. For some of you, this is a clear call to step out and go deeper, to go beyond simply sharing space with fellow disciples on Sunday. This is a call to real connection and caring (or maybe, allowing others to connect with and care for you).

For others, God has provided here a powerful reminder that seeking out and serving Jesus often means seeking out and serving those among us who are especially burdened. It can be tempting to 'do church' with the people you like, the people ready to pour into you, the people with whom ministry just seems... easier. But when we seek out and serve those brothers and sisters experiencing real and sometimes desperate need, those struggling, those in painful situations, dealing with complicated emotions, the people with whom ministry can seem... harder, we can be encouraged that, according to his own words, we will meet Jesus there.

And wonderfully, meeting Jesus in my brother's time of need reminds us both that we are bound together as equals; that is, as needy sinners who have been profoundly blessed by the King himself. If I can give, if I can help, it's only because I've been given... because I've been helped by Christ himself. Listen again to how Jesus addresses us in light of God's grace (v. 34): ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Do you long to hear those words? What a reminder that our readiness for His return simply means living each day in light of his love; a love that chose us and called us and changes us. Ultimate love for the needy like us, that ultimately, we might love the needy among us as an expression of our love for Him. If you love Jesus, then love him by loving one another. Amen?

 

More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)

August 14, 2022

It Really is Finished (John 19:28-30)

August 7, 2022

Your Survival Kit for a 'Jesus-less' World (John 14:25-27)

July 31, 2022

Hearing the Voice of Jesus (John 10:22-27)