The Sheep at the Judgement

English service - May 19, 2024


Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison


Matthew 25:31-46


The Sheep at the Judgement


              Everyone with us online and in person, let’s turn our hearts and minds again to the word of God.  As we do, let’s remember what a privilege it is to be in His presence.  Wherever we are, let’s listen with openness as He speaks, and grow closer to Him through the story of Jesus before us today.  This is the last message in the series, “People Jesus Praised.”  I pray that learning these stories from the Bible has fed your soul and helped you in your process of character formation, spiritual growth, and your relationship with God through Christ.  They have definitely enriched and blessed me as I’ve prepared these sermons.   


    As you may remember, the last three stories, which make up Matthew 25, are a set of parables, all with theme of the end of the world.  The first focuses on preparation for the end by describing 10 bridesmaids at a wedding celebration.  The second puts the spotlight on the ways we actually have lived our lives, as servants who have been given various amounts of money to use in managing our master’s property.  The third lays the emphasis on the end itself and judgement.


    Jesus is talking about Himself when He begins (v. 31a), “The Son of Man will come in all his glory.”  Where will all this happen?  Saying He will “come,” it kind of sounds like earth, but He will “sit on his throne in the glory of heaven.”  We tend to think of heaven and earth as different places, but Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Bringing “up there down here” is one of the key purposes of life for God and His people, according to the Bible.  So maybe heaven and earth aren’t necessarily different places after all.  We will begin living in heaven fully, in some important ways, only when Jesus comes again and life in this world has ended.  But the process of our learning to live in the kingdom of God will have begun long before that.  We take part in that as soon as we enter a relationship with Christ as our Savior and Lord.  So, in light of that, where will all this happen?  That’s really not the right question.  It happens in God’s presence, where He is king.  That’s what matters. 


    What will happen there?  “All the nations will be gathered in front of him.  . . . He will be like a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats” (v. 32).  Reading this story, I want to be a sheep and not a goat, don’t you?  It’s a mistake to understand Jesus as saying God likes some animals better than others, the right more than the left, or poor people compared to rich ones.  He is simply using these various visual images from daily life to make certain points about the spiritual world and our life of faith.


    In English you may hear or read the word goat used similarly with a negative nuance attached to it.  For example, “He had a chance to win the game for the Fighters when he came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning with the bases loaded.  But instead of the hero, he became the goat when he struck out.”  There’s also a completely different meaning to goat, that is, g-o-a-t, standing for “greatest of all time.”  That’s the kind of goat many people would love to be.


    When Jesus talks about “sheep” and “goats” in v. 32, He is using identity words, not action words.  Sheep do sheep things, and goats do goat things.  No one has to tell or force them to behave in those particular ways.  There may be a lot of overlap at times in their behavior, but they are not basically the same in their natures.  Jesus is not just telling us to do good things and avoid doing evil ones.  His teaching goes deeper than that.  He knows that what we do comes naturally out of who we are, the character and habits of the heart and mind that have formed us over the course of our lives.  He doesn’t want us just to be people who can force ourselves to perform good acts because we should and restrain ourselves from the bad things we really want to do.  He wants us to be people who actually love what is good and freely choose to do it with joy. 


    This story shows a lot of God’s type of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we could say.  We’re hearing a lot recently about DEI, with many hot debates and deep disagreements about the kinds of diversity, equity, and inclusion that really lead to human flourishing.  But God says that people of all types will stand before Him just the same at the end of our lives someday.  And we will each be judged by Him, graciously and with deep understanding, but also with strict justice. 


    Why does a shepherd separate sheep from goats in the first place?  As we’ve already seen, Jesus isn’t somehow anti-goat or something.  All types of animals are part of God’s creation, and so loved and cared for by Him.  He is making a particular point here, teaching his listeners something that they can see as a simple fact of life as they watch a shepherd work from day to day.


    According to the devotional author Pamela Palmer, sheep are willing to follow, they are made to need a shepherd, and they stick together with other sheep. This term describes Christ-followers in that we were made so that we need to willingly depend on His guidance and live in community with other believers for encouragement, support, and spiritual growth.


    Goats, on the other hand, are stubborn, independent, and (unlike sheep) not led easily or willingly.  Using this term to describe unbelievers, Jesus says that they can be stubborn about coming to believe, think that they are OK without God, and generally do not eagerly come to follow Jesus.


    Gregory Gaines, an author on practical agricultural topics, says that goats eat a very wide variety of food, so they tend not to stay in the place the shepherd has set for the flock of sheep.  They tend to go all over looking for food.  Sheep, on the other hand, generally stay in the same location, with the flock.  They eat grass and similar foods, with a much narrower diet.  Both sheep and goats need some copper in their diet, but a normal amount for a goat can actually kill sheep over time.  Goats can also be aggressive and make trouble for sheep in some cases.  So a shepherd may separate sheep from goats for these practical reasons, for instance before taking them out of the community pen into a field where there is plenty of grass.


    In v. 33, Jesus says that “He will put the sheep to his right and the goats to his left.”  He does not say that he will put the rich on his right hand, and the poor on his left.  He never says He will place the highly-educated elites on his right hand, and people who never went to school much on his left.  No, He says that He will place the godly on his right hand, and the wicked on his left.  All other divisions and subdivisions will then be cleared away.  But the great separating of people into saved and unsaved, shown by being faithful in helping or unfaithful in helping, will remain for ever.  And the place we spend eternity will be determined by it. 


    Jesus’ story reaches out not only far into the future, it actually extends back into the distant past, as well.  On Judgment Day, He will say to sheep (v. 34b), “Come and take what is yours. It is the kingdom prepared for you since the world was created.”  Have you found your answers to these two basic questions of life: What does it mean to be human? and Why am I here in this world?  Here Jesus gives us some clear teaching that helps us find our answers, that is, our identity and purpose.  He saves us from the ignorance of having to go through life never understanding ourselves or knowing where we are going.  All through our lives, and even from long, long before we were born, our loving Heavenly Father has had plans for us.  He intends for us to live as His children and share with Him in His kingdom. 


    We have a rich, rich inheritance prepared for us that goes far beyond money and the things of this world.  It is based on our relationship with God, the maker of all things.  Our lives have always been in His hands in the most important ways.  If you ever feel lost or alone, here is the basic, live-giving truth to which you can always return.  Your truest home is with your Heavenly Father in “the kingdom prepared for you since the world was created.”  If that is true, then we have some strong reasons to live with joy and hope—and no reason to spend any time in worry or fear. 


On what basis will we be allowed into such an excellent place?  Jesus’ reason is in vv. 35-36.


    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 gave them to me. I was sick. And you took care of me. I was

in prison. And you came to visit me.


    And likewise in vv. 42-43 Christ lists these specific actions that the “goats” did not take.  These are reasons for their punishment.


    The good actions in 35-36 are not things that take much money to do.  We all can do at least some of them, if we have the will—if we have love in our hearts that motivates us to actively support people in need.  No one has an excuse for not helping. 


    And, again, before bringing up particular acts, Jesus has already placed the focus on identity.  These are sheep and goats.  And who they are tells you all you need to know about what they will do.  It would be a basic-level mistake to think that Jesus has thrown out all the other New Testament teachings about salvation by faith and set up a system of salvation based on people’s performing enough good works for suffering people to deserve the reward of heaven.  Acts of kindness and goodness are not the reason we are saved, but they are reliable evidence that we are saved.


    Jesus continues by explaining that the way we treat people has a meaning far beyond the personal connection between them and us.  In v. 40 He adds, “Anything you did for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  Christ is present and active in our lives in more ways than we often notice He is.  When you think of Him that way, you can begin to understand why He would say both “I am the light of the world” in John 8:12 and “You are the light of the world” in Matthew 5:14.  You get a sense of what He means in the Acts 9 story of Saul meeting the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.  Saul has apparently never seen Jesus with his eyes, but he has been persecuting Christian people terribly.  There (v. 5) Saul asks Him, “Who are you, Lord?” 


    The answer comes: “I am Jesus. I am the one you are opposing.”  That tells us something of great importance about the Christ who comes to make His home in the heart of each person who receives Him by faith.  When we enjoy life, He takes it as His own joy.  When we suffer, He suffers together with us. 


    One of my favorite stories is Leo Tolstoy’s Where Love Is, God Is.  Raise your hand if you’ve read it or seen a video version called Martin the Cobbler, OK?  I won’t try to tell the story here, but it’s about a lonely, old shoe repairman who has a dream.  In it, Christ says that He is going to visit him.  The rest of the story is the unexpected ways in which that happens.  I hope we can make a time to watch it together. 


    Wherever people in need are, there Jesus is, ready to receive our kindness in them.  Now we are getting into what some Christians call “the Christ in all people.”  Who are “these brothers of mine” (v. 40)?  There is some broad sense in which all people are brothers and sisters.  We are all made and loved perfectly and always by the same Heavenly Father.  That joins us in a common humanity.  But when Jesus uses the word brothers in this way in the New Testament, He is not usually talking about every human being but those who are willingly following Him.  So it is probably more accurate to understand His words in today’s story to be about His followers (men, women, and children).  He is not excluding others but putting the focus on those who are intentionally living with Him as their Savior and Lord. 


    So how are Jesus’ people suffering from lack of food, drink, housing, clothes, health care, and friendship?  The Bible scholar Don Carson notes that more people have become followers of Christ—and more have been persecuted for following Him—in the last 150 years than in all the years before this combined.  So there are more occasions than ever for us to find our Savior and Lord in the brothers and sisters around us in our world who are in real need.    


              How could you do that?  Our next Bible Discussion time could give us a chance to talk about that together and find specific examples. 


    It might be a simple thing.  For instance, I know of a student who felt great stress as he was trying to finish writing his doctor’s dissertation before the submission deadline.  But the phone kept ringing, distractions were making it difficult, and he was starting to hate the sound of the phone ringing.  But then he got the idea, “When it rings, and I wonder who it is, I’ll tell myself, ‘It’s Jesus calling.’”  He tried it, and it made a huge difference in the way he felt and reacted to people calling him.  When he thought of them as his chances to know, love, and serve Christ Himself, those calls began to change from irritating distractions to valuable opportunities. 


              Here’s another possibility.  I mentioned to you a few weeks ago a person in Sapporo I’ve know for over 10 years.  She has to move out of her apartment but does not have enough money to pay for the move.  It has become an extremely stressful situation. 


    In praying and thinking, one idea came to mind.  I received a pair of shoes as a Christmas present last year, but when I tried them on, they were too small.  I talked with the online seller in the U.S. about exchanging them.  But they said no, it’s better to just give the money back to the members of my family who gave them to me.  They did, so now I have a perfectly good pair of shoes that I can’t use (and could not give away when I tried).  But, I do have a family member who loves to sell things online.  She has agreed to sell my shoes and give whatever money we make toward paying the moving expenses of the person I just mentioned.  After talking about this more, we realized that there are probably other things sitting around our apartment, taking up space and collecting dust, that we could sell with this same goal in mind.  I’d like to try and see what we could do to help this person in Christ’s name. 


    Is there anyone who would like to join us?  If so, please let me know.  If you think it’s a good idea to organize a church bazaar, as we did some years ago at Open Door, to raise money for this project, we could talk about that.  Maybe you have another idea about how we could cooperate to serve the Christ in the people around us.  I’d like to hear it if you do. 


    Of course, there are always reasons why it’s at least inconvenient.  Our church still has not completed our giving to support the building project of our sister church in Liberia.  We also need to keep the commitment we have already made to giving to the pastor’s retirement fund of our denomination.  But if you sense that God is leading you, your family, or our church to take a step of faith and meet a specific need before us now, please let me know, OK?           


    Let’s return to Jesus’ story—the harsh and scary part.  In v. 41b Jesus says that the message to the goats will be: “Go away from me into the fire that burns forever. It has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”  Back in v. 34, Jesus says that heaven, the kingdom of God, has been prepared for people who show their faith through helping others.  But He does not say here in v. 41 that this fire has been prepared since the world was created for people who haven’t helped others in need.  It has been prepared for the devil and his angels.  That tells us something important about the dreams, hopes, and plans that God has for us as human beings.  It is not His wish or design to send anyone to hell, away from His loving care.  We learn in II Peter 3:9, “The Lord . . . doesn't want anyone to be destroyed. Instead, he wants all people to turn away from their sins.”  The reality of hell is there not because God wants it but only as a result of humans’ refusal to accept through faith His gift of salvation and life. 


    Jesus gives the word of judgment at the end of the parable (v. 45b): “Anything you didn't do for one of the least important of these, you didn’t do for me.”  Then about these people (v. 46a), “. . . They will go away to be punished forever.”  Even though we may misjudge who has true faith, who has actually been saved or not, God will judge correctly. 


    Our job, Christ says, is to tell the people around us the good news of the possibility of being saved, while there is still time.  Standing in church like this and talking about the need is not enough.  Words are not enough.  Real faith leads to acts of kindness and generosity.  Through our words and love in action, the message of the gospel will become real to people under God’s leadership.


    So is this a story of good news or bad news?  It of course depends on our response to it, to the teller of the story Himself.  But He ends it on a hopeful note that shows His deep desire for each one of us and everyone (v. 46b).  “But those who have done what is right will receive eternal life.  Not “. . . those who have understood what is right” or “. . . intended what is right” or “said” or “planned.”  Those who have done it.    


    Let’s pray that we and many, many others will be counted among those who have lived our lives in the saving power of the love of God.


    God of gentle lovingkindness and righteous judgment, give us eyes to see you at work in the lives of the people around us.  Give us hearts that care, minds that understand, lips that speak your truth, and hands that work to show our love for you, and for each person to whom you send us in your name.  In that great name we ask it, amen.





Carson, D. A. (2012, March 25). The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The Parables of Jesus. The Gospel Coalition.

Gaines, G. (2024, January 10). Why Does a Shepherd Separate Sheep from Goats.

Palmer, P. (2023, April 21). Why Does Jesus Say He Will Separate the Sheep and the              Goats? Bible Study Tools. topical-studies/why-does-jesus-say-he-will-separate-the-sheep-and-the-goats.html