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Matthew 25:31-46 

Sheep and Goats

Sermon Notes + Quotes

We study through books of the Bible here at The Village Chapel, and we do have extra copies. Someone will be coming through, and if you would like a paper Bible to follow along in, just raise your hand up real high and someone will drop one off at your aisle. For those of you who are joining us online, we hope that you’ll be able to pull out your Bible and follow along with us in Matthew chapter 25. There’s also a QR code here for those of you in the room, if you would like the sermon notes, the quotes, the classic prayer, there’s a bunch of stuff up there available by way of that code.

Today, we are in Matthew’s Gospel. We’ve been calling our study of Matthew “The King and His Kingdom,” and today is one of those very pronounced passages that reminds us of this King that we’re talking about, Jesus. The context, of course, is our Mount Olivet Discourse, which began in chapter 24, now continuing in chapter 25. Along the way, Jesus has been talking about His second coming and He’s been talking at the end of the world, the destruction of the temple was prophesied by Him there as well; and the disciples got these questions going, just as most of us would. “When” is a big question for them. When will these things be? What will be the sign of Your coming? What will be the signs of the end of the age?

I continue to stand with my older brother, who’s now gone home to be with the Lord, Adrian Rogers. He said, “I don’t really know the exact sequence of the end times, because I’m on the welcoming committee, not the planning committee.” And I think a lot of us try to be on the planning committee down through the ages of the church, thinking that we can sort this all out, and get our little numerology tables out, discover where Russia fits into the whole thing, all that stuff. At some point, I just say, “Hold on, stand with Jesus.”

He said, “No man knows the day or the hour.” Not even Jesus. He said that’s for the Father to determine. So, let’s hold fast to Him. He will hold fast to us, as we sing so often and will indeed sing in just a little bit. The answers of Jesus to these kinds of questions focus more on preparation and less on speculation. And that’s what I think we ought to do too. What does it mean to prepare our hearts, our lives, our very souls for the return of Christ? Some of the parables have been about that preparedness. Some people in these parables are being seen as unprepared, others as prepared. So, the context is very much that we would be thinking about preparation.

As we get into this passage today, a lot of people claim they want to see justice in the world, but what is this thing they call justice? What does it require? Will there ever be a time when justice is actually and finally, ultimately realized? In Matthew 25, Jesus talks here about the end of time and His return to judge the world, and His plan to separate the sheep from the goats. Just what does He mean by all of that? And that’s what we’ll call our sermon today or our study today, “Sheep and Goats.” That’s exactly where I want us to go as we enter here looking at verse 31. As we prepare to read here, let me just offer this prayer for illumination:

Father, as we open our hearts and minds to Your Word, may Your promises be our hope and confidence. May Your purposes be our delight and mission; may Your presence be our joy and strength. This we pray in Jesus’ name for His sake and for His glory. Amen and amen.

Let me read from 31 on through 46 of Matthew 25. Please set your eyes on the page, I think it will be helpful for you, or on the screen if you happen to be using a device. Here’s what it says, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory.” Notice it didn’t say, “But if the Son of Man comes in His glory.” If you’re grateful for the “when,” say amen.

Amen. I’m grateful for the when. That’s a promise. And I know people have tried to predict it over and over again all along the way, ever since He said this kind of thing, and so far, we’re still here. Does that mean He failed? No, it means the predictors, the speculators, failed. And they didn’t take to heart what Jesus said when He warned, “No man knows the day or the hour.” And that He’ll actually come when you don’t think He’s coming. So, if you think He’s coming, He’s not coming. It’s just when you think you know something that you shut down things. Although, I know God has chosen His time and He knows exactly what He’s doing and when He plans to wrap up human history. It’ll be just the right time. He’s never in a hurry. He’s never lagging behind. He’s always right on time.

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” That’s what kings do, by the way. They sit on a throne, they’re looked up to, they’re respected. And they reign and rule. Jesus will reign and rule finally in righteousness with justice, and that’s a beautiful thing. “The nations,” verse 32, “will be gathered before Him.” It’s interesting. “The nations will be gathered” doesn’t mean that the nations themselves are doing the gathering; it just means they will be gathered.

That’s interesting… I sat and thought about that for about a half an hour this week, and I realized, “Oh, God’s doing all of this.” He comes with His angels, and He’s the way. Later into this you see why they will be gathered. Some of them will be coming along going, “No, no.”

“He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He’ll put the sheep on His right, the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right,” that’s the sheep folks, “‘Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit [not earn] inherit [not purchase] inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'” I love that. He’s been thinking about you for a long, long time.

You have been the longing of His heart for a long, long time. And some of you out there thinking, “Not me, couldn’t be me. You got to be talking about somebody else.” He’s talking about you. He’s talking about me, and that’s the beautiful, good news of the Gospel. “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For 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 had no clothes, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.”

And then Jesus continues to talk about the people on His right. He’s in this story. He’s this illustration that He’s using. And He says, “Then the righteous,” those on His right, these sheep, “will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You or thirsty and give You a drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine.'”

You’ve got to underline that, “these brothers of mine,” very important what He’s saying here and what He’s not saying, “‘To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even to the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on His left [the goats] ‘Depart from Me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.'” Notice the isolation from God, isolation to eternity with devils and angels.

“‘I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, you gave Me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, you didn’t invite Me in, had no clothes, and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, or in prison and did not take care of You?’ And He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'” Jesus says, and He’s talking to His disciples, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Wow. So, Jesus is at one and the same time the single most unifying and dividing personality history has ever known, and we see it illustrated right here. He’s the ultimate unifier because Jesus is calling people from every tribe, tongue, people group, and nation to join Him in His kingdom, and He’s the one that’s made it possible for them to come into, to enter His kingdom. That’s amazing.

He’s the one that can unify people like Simon the Zealot with Levi, the former tax collector whose name is now Matthew, and we’re reading his book — two people that would’ve been natural enemies worse than blue, green, or blue and red divisions in our country, worse than anything you can possibly imagine, these two. Yet in Jesus, in Christ, they are unified. He is the most unifying figure. The Christian faith, the Gospel, is the most inclusive belief system on the planet when it comes to any kind of religious belief system. It’s not about your bloodline. It’s not about what zip code you live in. It’s not about your performance. It’s not about balancing out the moral scales. It’s simply about the fact that He called you and you responded. You belong to Him now and that’s it. Jesus also is the most divisive person in all of history because He draws a very clear line between sheep and goats.

What does that mean? What does that mean for us? Let me summarize from this passage a few things. One day, Christ will return as the sovereign judge. That deserves a Methodist hallelujah or something here. One day, Christ will return as the sovereign judge. Yes. Hallelujah. Sovereign, He’s the King, His will be done. Nothing can stop Him from doing what He intends to do. The good news is what He intends to do. He intends to set the world to right. I’ve read to the back of the book, some of you have as well. It includes no more tears, no more disease, no more dying, no more acrimony, no more fear.

Who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want to be a sheep at this point in our study of this chapter? The Christological implications of this passage are immeasurably conspicuous. What Jesus says here cuts to the core of Jesus’ own self-understanding, especially in His personal claims to divinity, and to the core of what His followers down through the centuries have believed from the beginning; not from Nicaea, not from sometime a few hundred years later when supposedly a bunch of His followers got together to try to prop up the image of their fallen hero, that’s not it at all. Because from the earliest pages of the New Testament, some of the Pauline epistles, it is clear that Jesus rose from the dead. God vindicated Jesus in every way by raising Him from the dead. He is indeed the unique Son of God, the only one qualified to be our Savior and Lord, and their view of Him from the beginning was just that.

C.S. Lewis’ trilemma becomes helpful here. He says things like, “I’m not trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus, ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That’s one thing we must not say.” Says Lewis,

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic – on the level of the man who says He is a poached egg – or else He would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else, a madman or something worse. You can just shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I think it’s profound. I know some others have come along and said we can add to Lord, lunatic and liar. We can also add legend, that He never really said that about Himself. I just read where He’s saying that about Himself. He just said He’s coming back in power, and He will sit on His throne, and He will be the one to have the last word, He will be the one to decide my destiny and your destiny. That’s a pretty tall claim, and on and on it would go throughout the rest of the New Testament.

Lewis continues, I won’t put this up on the screen, it was lengthy, and I just want to make sure you got those two slides at least, but he says this, “There’s no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him, ‘Are you the son of Brahma?’ He would’ve said, ‘My son, you are still in the veil of illusion.’ If you’d gone to Socrates and asked, ‘Are you Zeus?’ He would’ve laughed at you. If you’d gone to Muhammad and said, ‘Are you Allah?’ He would first rent his clothes and then cut off your head.”

I’m aware, as I said, that some of what Lewis has said here some people might take issue with, but I think it’s profound. If Jesus was merely a legend, a liar, or a lunatic, I think we should ignore Him completely. I think I should be playing golf on Sunday mornings, even though I don’t golf. I’ve never played golf, but I might take it up if I didn’t believe this was ultimately true about this person, Jesus.

We believe here at The Village Chapel, and seek to persuade you, that Jesus was and is the sovereign Lord of history, the one who will indeed have the last and the final word, that He is the Lord of all His creation. That one day, the day described in this passage, Jesus intends to return and assign to each their eternal destiny. That is, in some ways, quite sobering. And it begs the question: What kind of judge will He be? What kind of God holds our eternal fate in His hands?

And this is part of the good news about the Christian faith and the day of judgment. Our judge is someone who has literally gone to hell and back so that we don’t have to go to hell. Amen. That’s amazing. That’s astounding. If you could set yourself up for that kind of win in court, why would you want anyone else to be your judge? This is why our relationship with Christ is what ultimately matters.

Number two, every person without exception will be gathered before the throne of Christ. Our relationship to Christ is what ultimately matters. That’s why, as He comes and returns with the angels, whether He sends the angels out to call us and gather us all to Himself, whether we want to come or not, it’s clear from this passage that all the nations will be gathered before Him. And part of what He intends to do as He gathers them together is to be the divider; the one who determines who are sheep, who are goats.

Every person, without exception, will be gathered before the throne of Christ. Some, as I said earlier, will be dragged before Him, “No, no.” And they will be fighting the whole way. I don’t know what it looks like. I won’t pretend to be able to put a movie together or a TV show together and tell you what it looks like, but here’s what I do know:

“It’s a great comfort to me to know that my judge will be none other than my savior.”

–John Stott 

How about you? Isn’t that a great comfort to know that the one that you will come before, that you will have to give an accounting of your life to, is the one who wants to be your Savior? That’s great news.

Number three, Christ will separate the sheep from the goats. It’s very simple, just breaking down this particular passage. It’s very clear, is what it is as well. Why would Jesus tell a story like this? Why do you suppose Jesus chose those two different animals as metaphors to represent two different spiritual conditions?

You guys have all seen… I’m sure you’ve seen that little video where there’s this guy and he’s down in a ravine that’s really muddy and there’s this sheep down in there. Covered in slime and mud and everything like that. This shepherd is down in there, and he’s lifting him up. And the sheep is heavy. Finally, gets him up, and you’re going, “It’s never going to happen.” Then it happens. And his sheep walks off for about 10 yards and shakes off some of the mud. The shepherd climbs up out of the ravine, and he says, “Awesome.” Then the sheep runs back into the ravine again.

And I kept thinking, “I so identify. That’s me. I’m the sheep.” And it’s right after I’ve said, “Oh, thank you, Lord, I’ve got this now.” Back in the ravine again. It’s just so funny. We’re compared to sheep a whole lot in the Bible. I’m not sure it’s a compliment, but goats might be worse. Think of the difference between them. What do you think of when you think of both sheep and goats? Not a lot between the ears there. You can’t throw a Frisbee and expect the goat or the sheep… Maybe the goat, but certainly not the sheep, to catch the Frisbee. It’s not going to happen. Totally vulnerable, totally dependent. Need a shepherd.

One of the things sheep do is they eat what’s in front of them, and your parents probably told you, “Eat what’s in front of you.” That probably got told to you once or twice. Sheep, they eat what’s in front of them, and then they keep digging in the same spot unless you move them. A lot of them will eat the grass and they eat the roots, then they just keep going, thinking there must be something else down there. Again, not really brilliant, sheep, but interesting. The way that they can hear the shepherd’s voice and understand some simple commands, and that’s wonderful. My first thought, again, is that this isn’t a big compliment coming from Jesus.

But there are some similarities between goats and sheep. Both animals, both flock, herd animals, require shepherds’ provision and protection, highly in need of maintenance. Both can be stubborn, perhaps goats a little bit more. Goats may be more ruddy, more durable, and more curious in some ways; but sheep are perhaps better examples of those who are dependent upon the shepherd and need to be rescued over and over. And that’s what marks those who belong to Him. We keep having need of Him, and we are becoming more and more aware of it along the way.

“Faith must reveal itself in works…”

That’s true. David Jackman and William Phillips say,

“…Such works are the fruit, the evidence, of a true faith. So the judgment about works is actually a judgment about faith, because the reality of faith is seen in the evidence of the works. The works are the mark, externally, of the inner reality of faith.”

–David Jackman & William Philip, Teaching Matthew  

So, Jesus says, “You saw Me hungry, you fed Me. You saw Me thirsty; you gave Me something to drink. You saw Me a stranger, you invited Me in.” And on and on He goes. Very practical things, He says. That seems to be what separates the sheep from the goats, the way they respond to Jesus. But not just Jesus, verse 40 tells us, and I had you underline it, “These little brothers, the least of these.” The New Testament uses the term brothers for the family of faith, not for those outside of the faith but for those inside the faith.

Jesus is here talking to His disciples, so it’s an interesting thing that He says that. I know that some people who are from different theological camps love this passage because they think it proves that unless you’re a social justice warrior, you can’t be a Christian. Others, like, from the reform camp, get a little nervous about this passage because it sounds like salvation by works, and they don’t like that. Still, others who are anti-supernatural don’t like this passage because it sounds like Jesus is actually planning to come back one day. So, there’s a little something here to bother all of us, or many of us, I suppose, but that’s good. I need to be stirred up. That’s good. I need to have my ideas of who Jesus is. I need to have those ideas shaken up every now and then.

“The measure of true faith,” says Jesus here, “is how it manifests itself in love.” Love for Jesus and love for those whom Jesus loves. How are you doing on that? I know a lot of people right now who claim to be Christians themselves, but they hate the church. And I would say to them, “I see you in here.” I see myself in here too. What’s amazing to me is that in both cases, the sheep and the goats, as Jesus describes the way that they behave, they’re both surprised at His assessment. “When did I see You hungry and feed You?” The sheep would say, “I don’t even know I did that.” And then the goats would say, “When did I not feed You? When did I not give You a drink of water? When did I not visit You and welcome You in?” Both groups are surprised. Isn’t that interesting?

That’s because they’re operating out of their spiritual DNA. Sheep are sheep and behave like sheep, goats are goats and behave like goats. And that’s Jesus’ point. This is not just about, check your box if you did the right things, now you’re safe. No, this is about your DNA. This is about the kind of being, so our ontology is the one that determines our biography. What we are, who we are in essence, determines what comes out in our lives. How we behave is about who we are in Him. That’s why He was able to do this sheep and goats thing. And I love it that the sheep are surprised by the reach of sovereign grace, but that goats will be shocked by the failure of their attempts at self-salvation.

Did you notice that in both cases, as Jesus asks or responds to their questions about when, in both cases, we don’t really have much response after that? He is the one that determines our destiny. So why wouldn’t you put your faith, your hope, and confidence in Him? Why wouldn’t you trust in Him? He’s the one that knows you fully and still loves you. He knew what a goat I was. He knows what a goat I can be, and yet He still loves me.

In the biblical view, this is sovereign grace at work in our lives. Lesslie Newbigin says,

“God’s forgiving love to me in Christ is a sheer marvel that passes all comprehension. Only where we understand His wrath do we understand the might of His love. It is as we understand His love that we know that His wrath is just.”

–Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble   

See, people that bristle at this whole notion of Christ coming back and being the one to judge the entire world, sometimes we’ll have too low a view of their sin. That is, “We’re all basically good, aren’t we? We’re good Southerners. We go to The Village Chapel, and we tithe 2.3%. Isn’t that good?”

We think we’re all okay in that respect, but we have way too low a view of our sinfulness and the offense that it is to a holy and righteous God. And that’s the other thing that sometimes we don’t have a good enough view of, who God is. And it is how powerful, beautiful, holy, and righteous He is that makes Him the one that I’m really glad has the final word. Because not only is He white-hot in His holiness, but He’s also amazing in His graciousness. That He would come for me is just unbelievable to me. This is the greatest mystery in the world.

“The sentimental secularism of modern Western culture, with its exalted optimism about human nature, its shrunken idea of God, and its decay of conscience, makes it hard for Christians to take the reality of hell seriously.”

–J.I. Packer

And nobody talks about hell more than Jesus. He’s the one that, of course, knows every tiny microdot of His creation and all the realms of His creation, not just the physical realm but the immaterial realm as well. He knows all that better than any of us, so we want to listen to Jesus. And we want to come before Jesus. We want to know that history is moving forward. We are one day closer. We’re one moment closer. I wish He’d come before I finish this sentence and set things right. Why? Because I love Him. I love who He is, and I love what He’s told me He intends to do with this world and with myself as I struggle with my own sin. So, I think here, if I could just summarize in five words or six words this entire sermon, it’s this, “Be a sheep, not a goat.”

Amen. Be a sheep, not a goat. How do I do that? I don’t know. Is that what you’re saying? How do I become a sheep? Do I just do those things? Do I just look for some people that are cold and look for some people that are thirsty? Is it that? Is it about a humanistic response to the poverty around me?

Yes and no. Because what we’re talking about here as Jesus lists all these things is, again, a DNA from which flows a certain way of viewing the world and living in the world. So, the salvation by grace that’s on offer to us in the Christian Gospel is not salvation by works, but it is a salvation that works. That’s what we try to communicate.

“Next to the ministry of the Word…”

As the Bible teaches,

“…the most fruitful pastoral duty is to help all sorts of odd sheep live together and show them how to live in the world amongst goats without becoming goats.”

–William Still, The Work of the Pastor

I went online too, and I tried to hear what they sounded like. It was interesting to me because I could almost not tell the difference between the way some goats sounded and some sheep sounded. You could tell the difference in the way they looked. That was okay, but man, it’s interesting how much they look alike.

So, all people that come to church and look alike and start doing some of the religious things, are they sheep or goats? I don’t know, it depends on how they respond to Jesus. That’s what really matters. Turning from a goat into a sheep is not about merely engaging in religious activities or adopting philanthropic behavior. To go from goat to sheep requires a change in spiritual DNA. We must be changed in a way that we have no power to effect on our own. If we desire to change from being a goat into being a sheep because of what we read here, to use Jesus’ own words elsewhere in John chapter three, “We must be born…” Again.

Yeah. It’s a change of DNA, and we can’t do that on our own. The Apostle Paul understood it. He said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he’s a new creature, the old things have passed away, behold, new things have come.” It’s said lots of different ways throughout the New Testament, so it is indeed a theme of the New Testament. And that, my friends, is how goats become sheep. They don’t just check off the little list of action items. They have to become new beings, new creatures, and they do that in Christ.

Those two words over 200 times throughout the New Testament, it’s brilliant. And there’s no other faith like this, where the object of your faith, you are united to the object of your faith who is Jesus. There’s no other faith like that, where you live in union with the object of your faith. I’ll close with this Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote. It’s just beautiful. “We can’t read the Bible without coming to the conclusion that the thing that really differentiates God’s people from all others is that they have always been people who walk in the consciousness of their eternal destiny.”

Is that you? Are you interested in that? I hope you have been. Because what happens to us, a lot of times we find ourselves despairing or longing, and we don’t know why. We might be despairing because the world out there is so crazy, or perhaps we’re despairing because we just don’t know what our meaning and purpose in life is. So, we find ourselves walking around with a cloud of despair, or we have this chronic sense of longing. We chase after things. We might even achieve them; we might even acquire them. And yet once we do, we find that there’s still an emptiness of acuity in our soul, some emptiness, some vacuum. What’s not filling me?

It’s because God has created us, and He placed eternity in our hearts. And the only way that longing, that deep longing, will ever be satisfied is in a personal relationship with God. And being aware of your eternal destiny is for those sheep who understand that it’s Jesus before whom we will one day stand, and we will look to Him for our destiny.

It’s been 2000 years since Calvary, since that hill where He died in my place and in your place. And you can choose the timing of your judgment day as described here in Matthew 25. Do you want your judgment day to be yet to come, or do you want your judgment day to be 2000 years ago, already settled, completely settled? Or do you want to just live in fear and in despair and with a chronic longing for God, whom you haven’t been able to connect with because you’re just trying to balance out the moral scales and you just can’t do it?

And here comes Jesus and says, “Let’s move your judgment day all the way back 2000 years to the cross” where He paid the price once for all your sin and for mine. Do you trust Him? Do you believe in Him? Is He the one that you’re trusting as a savior? Is He the one that you’re bowing before as Lord? Recognizing that He knows better than you, He knows better than me about literally every category of life, including the answer to the question, who am I?

He knows better. My identity is a gift given. My identity is not “The burden, I have to discover it, and it’s on me.” No, it’s a gift given. Let’s go to Jesus. He’s the one that holds our lives, our eternal destiny in His hands, and there is no better place for you to place your trust, your hope, your confidence. So now God has made you an offer and made me an offer. Any separation from sin between you and God can be settled right here, right now. All your guilt and shame can be completely washed away. You can go from goat to sheep right now. Place your faith, your hope, your confidence in the Good Shepherd who loves you. He is the one who will hold you fast for all eternity.

Let’s pray: Lord, thank You for who You are, for the reason You came, the mission You were on, to save sinners such as we are. It is mind blowing. It is awe inspiring to us. It’s astonishing to us. And the more we become aware of our need for You, the more astonishing it becomes that You have set Your love on us. I pray for all in this room, Lord, that You’d move on our hearts, that we’d turn to You in faith believing, turn away from our sin. And in repentance and faith, we would trust You, Jesus, the Good Shepherd of our souls. In Your precious name we pray. Amen and amen.

(Edited for reading)

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