Summary: Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats reminds us of some important truths: people matter, faith works, and Christ judges. Jesus points us to a God who doesn't want anyone to go to hell but all to come to eternal life.
Serving those in Need
Have you ever seen that TV show, “Undercover Boss”? It’s when the boss of a large company goes undercover in his or her own business and discovers what’s really going on—for better or for worse—in the company.
While Jesus already knows what’s going on—he knows our hearts, after all—he is kind of like that undercover boss in the TV show. He is secretly watching, hoping to catch us doing good and to surprise us with unexpected praise, but also catching some who do bad and giving them some unexpected results.
Jesus’ story is about judgment day, and he uses an example of sheep and goats. Sometimes shepherds would allow the two to intermingle, and then in the evening—for various reasons—separate them out. Jesus says he—the Son of Man, the King on his throne—will separate out the sheep from the goats in the end times.
Here are three things I want you to consider about this story of divine judgment:
1. People matter.
They do. Everyone matters. There’s an organization called, “Black Lives Matter.” And the title is correct: black lives do matter. Every life matters. Everyone matters. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the ... world.” He’s not talking about the globe. He’s talking about the people on the globe. Like the song goes, “Red, brown, yellow, black, and white, they are precious in his sight.” Everyone matters.
And you see that in Jesus’ story. People who are sick matter. People who are imprisoned matter. People who don’t have enough food or water matter. People who don’t have enough clothes matter. Marginalized people matter. Our church gave $____ to the Food Bank this month because all people matter.
And there is special consideration for other Christians. In verse 40, Jesus refers to them as “my brothers and sisters.” Earlier in the book of Matthew, he identified his true brothers and sisters as “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 12:50). In today’s story, Jesus isn’t talking about just any person without food or clothes or freedom; he is specifically talking about believers, Christians, his brothers and sisters in the family of God. He spoke to this in another setting when he said, in Matthew 10:42, “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.” The Apostle Paul echoed the theme when he wrote, in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Do Christians get special consideration because they’re better than other people? No, if we’re honest, we know that is not true. We are all sinners. As Jesus said, “No one is good--except God alone” (Luke 18:19). The bumper sticker captures it well: “Not perfect, just forgiven.” We know that to be true. The better we get to know God, the more we know we need God. The only explanation I can find is that God wants us to treat each other well so that a watching world can see what true community is supposed to be like, so that people get a taste of kingdom life and are drawn to a loving God. Also, helping others works best in the context of relationships, as we truly get to know the needs of the other. It’s harder for me to know what a person on a street corner really needs than it is what my fellow believer needs.
People matter to God, so they should matter to us. People matter. And then #2,
2. Faith works.
Scripture holds in tension these two concepts of faith and works. Paul writes a lot about the centrality of faith. His letter to the Romans inspired Martin Luther 500 years ago to proclaim, “Sola Fide,” or “faith alone.” It is only your faith in God that justifies you, not anything you do to deserve it. The famous evangelist Jonathan Edwards put it this way: “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”
Yet there is a Bible book called James, where James the half-brother of Jesus writes about the importance of doing good works, that if you’re not doing good works for God, maybe you’re not really a Christian. He says, for example, that true religion is taking care of orphans and widows (James 1:27).
So which is it? Faith or works. A mentor of mine said, “It’s both! Faith ... works!” If you have faith, it will work. It will show itself in serving God. True faith is faith in action. As Pastor Jeff Strite puts it, “Good deeds are the fruit of your salvation, not the root of your salvation.”