Summary: What Separates the Sheep from the Goats? F.L.U.F. (Faith, Love, Unpretentiousness, Fate)
Can you tell the difference between a sheep and a goat? Take a look at the pictures on the screen. Which is a sheep? Which is a goat? How do you know the difference? What gives it away for me is the coat. Sheep usually have a fuller coat than do goats (though not all sheep have wool nor do all goats have short hair).
Today in our gospel lesson Jesus speaks about how he will reappear on Judgment Day to separate mankind into two groups: the sheep and the goats. What will distinguish the groups from one another? F.L.U.F. That’s Faith, Love, Unpretentiousness, and Fate. It’s imperative that we understand what this means so that we don’t find ourselves standing in the wrong group bound for hell instead of heaven.
Jesus spoke the words of our text on the Tuesday of Holy Week. Among the many things he taught that day he told his disciples about a day known only to God when the world will come to an end. We’ll know that it’s the end because Jesus will descend on the clouds with all his holy angels (Matthew 25:31). That will be some sight. I mean think of how overwhelmed the shepherds of Bethlehem were when a choir of angels appeared before them. What will it be like to see the entire army of angels accompany a glorified Jesus?
Afraid you’ll miss out on the spectacle? Don’t worry about that. Jesus tells us that all the nations will be gathered before him. The prophet Daniel explains that this will be accomplished when all the dead are raised to life (Daniel 12:2). Can you imagine standing in a cemetery when Jesus returns? Would sounds of splintering wood fill the air as people fight their way out of their coffins? Would the smell of fresh earth fill your nostrils as the un-dead dig their way to the surface? We don’t have all the details of how this resurrection will be accomplished but God assures us that no one will miss their court date before the eternal judge.
And who will the judge be? Jesus. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t though it will surprise those who want to see Jesus as perpetual-nice-guy. Those who think Jesus’ love for mankind means tolerance for sin are in for a shock. Listen to what Jesus will say to many on Judgment Day: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). There is a certain group of people that is so offensive to Jesus that he won’t tolerate their presence on Judgment Day. Instead he’ll send them to a place of eternal punishment. What will these people have done that’s so offensive to Jesus? It’s not so much what they have done as what they have failed to do. Listen to Jesus’ assessment: “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me” (Matthew 25:42, 43). Jesus does not say of this hell-bound group: “You sold drugs to pre-teens. You cheated on your spouse. You murdered unborn children. You ripped off your customers.” By not mentioning these obvious sins Jesus is teaching us a sobering lesson. Don’t think that everything is OK between God and you just because you haven’t committed any “big” sins. If you’ve ever failed to serve those around you, if you’ve ever thought that your comfort was more important than someone else’s, you deserved to be damned.
Come on, Pastor! Jesus can’t be that strict? Is he really going to send me to hell because I didn’t get off the couch to get my little brother a glass of water when he asked for one? And don’t tell me Christians will get to heaven because they’re always cheerfully serving others.
Since Jesus is God, he is strict about sin. Failing to cheerfully serve another person even once makes us deserving of his wrath. But you would be correct in your assessment of Christians. We don’t always cheerfully serve others. This is perhaps why Jesus doesn’t compare the two Judgment Day groups to sheep and snakes but to sheep and goats, two animals that look very much alike. So what sets these two groups apart? F.L.U.F. Let’s take a closer look at what this means.
The first and most important distinction is faith. Those whom Jesus calls sheep are those who have faith in him. Not just faith that a guy named Jesus existed, but faith that he is the only one who can save us from our sins. Think of it like this. If I say: “I have faith in president-elect Obama.” I don’t mean, “I believe Obama exists.” I mean, “I think Obama can help the United States.” Likewise those who have true faith in Jesus believe that he has saved them from an eternal future in hell when he lived a perfect life and paid for their sins on the cross. They understand that, like decoy flares dropped from a fighter jet to keep a heat-seeking missile from slamming into the plane, Jesus diverted to himself God’s wrath originally meant for sinners.