Summary: The last of three parables in Matthew following Jesus’ teaching on end times. Perhaps what is most important is to realize that what we don’t do could be more important than what we do as followers of Jesus.
The Parables of Jesus
Goats and Sheep
September 13, 2009
This week we are going to look at the last parable of three that deals with the end times or judgment when Jesus comes again. The first two are the parables of the ten virgins and the talents. This week is the parable of the goats and the sheep. Next week by the way, we will finish up the parables of Jesus by going back to the parables of the mustard seed and yeast.
This parable reminds us that following Jesus is not about us. It is not about me, what I want, what I need, or what is convenient. It reminds us that when the final day of accounting comes, while we will be asked about us and our lives, it will be about how we followed Jesus by serving others. Turn to Matthew 25:31.
Have you ever seen those frequent flyer programs that the airlines have? Fly with us and you will earn points that can get free flights (of course with the restrictions on when you can use those points and on what flights, the only way to redeem them is on a one way flight to Butte, Montana between February 30 and February 31 but that is a whole other issue). And the way customer service is with airlines, it is almost like a competition to see who can treat you the worst. “Fly with us and will treat you like you’ve never been treated before. And while you wait on a crowded plane for six hours to take off with a broken toilet, we’ll give you 30 bonus points that you can use to purchase our own magazine that gives you hours of pointless reading and more useless information than the Internet,”
But I thought, “What if…” What if we created a Frequent Attender program here at KCG? “Earn points when you come and worship. Earn a thousand points and become an elite member and you will get great benefits. Like free upgrades to aisle seating. A personalized pillow with a complimentary chocolate every time you worship. At 2000 points, you become a platinum member where you will be given a personalized coffee mug and your very own Snuggie! Act now because right now after signing up, if you attend four Sundays in a row, you will get a free half hour counseling session with Pastor Mark. That’s right, free counseling! See our website for details and limitations on this fabulous offer.”
But it really isn’t about us. It isn’t about us at all. Let’s read.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. (Once again we must remember that this parable is in the context of the final accounting or judgment. Without this idea that we’ve looked at in other sermons—go online to see and hear them—this passage loses quite a bit of meaning and strength. We all will go before God our Creator, where we will need to account for what we did with the incredible gift of life and all the blessings that God so lovingly has provided.) 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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
So there will be a separation. Remember Matthew is writing to a Jewish Christian audience so they would have recognized the symbolism here (just as Jesus is addressing Jews). Goats were used every year to carry the sin of the people into the desert at the rite of atonement. The priest would have two goats brought before him. On one, he would place his hand on its head and througha prayer would impart symbolically the collective sins of the people on the goat. The goat would be chased out of the sin symbolizing the casting off of their sin and its removal from God’s presence where it would be devoured by wild animals. A second goat would then be sacrificed on the altar letting the blood be poured out as a covering for those sins.
The Jewish people would also be very familiar with the repeated biblical images of the faithful people of God being the sheep led by their shepherd who is God. Part of the hope of the Messiah was that He would be the ultimate good shepherd finally restoring Israel and giving them freedom. One example is Psalm 23 which says that the Lord is my what? Shepherd.
So the Jewish would immediately know what Jesus (and Matthew) is saying: the righteous people of God are the sheep who are on God’s right hand and the unrighteous are shown through the goats who are on God’s left hand. The left/right hands are more symbols to show God’s favor and acceptance.