Matthew 25:31-46 – That Choice You Make That Defines You

Posted: March 26, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 25:31-46

The Parable of the Sheep & Goats

In the state of South Carolina, there is one thing that, if you are born here or when you cross the state line when  you move here, you must make a choice on. You either have to choose burnt orange and northwest purple or you must choose garnet and black. What those color combinations represent are the Clemson University Tigers or the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. In South Carolina, you must choose one way or the other. There is no in-between. You are a Tiger or a Gamecock. As many of you know, I am a Clemson Tiger through and through. I love the school. I love those hills. I love everything about the university. Being a Gamecock fan is just not in my nature. I have friends who are Gamecock fans but we have to agree to disagree on that point. The division between the two schools runs deep and goes back hundreds of years and it is not sports that created the divide. Clemson was not established until 1889, some 88 years after University of South Carolina. The road was long and hard politically just to get Clemson opened because there was a fight, long and hard, to get a school for the common man opened. Although Clemson is one of the premier public universities in the nation in many areas and its cost is not so common man anymore, it does have the roots of being the college for the common man and USC was once considered the elitist school in the state. So, the division is more than just over sports. It’s about identity and who you identify with. When you are not from here, it is just a sports thing. But to us who were born and raised here, it is a defining characteristic of who you are. Gamecock or Tiger. Your choice reflects the type of person you are here in South Carolina. Many of us don’t know the history of getting Clemson opened but what most do know is that the passion runs deep either way. A chess match between the two schools would draw a crowd and there would be as much passion about gaining victory at that chess match as there is on that last Saturday in November in this football mad state. It is not just a football rivalry. It’s yes-no. It’s wine vs. beer. It’s margarine vs. butter. It’s white cowboy hat vs. black cowboy hat. It’s our state. You make a choice. It defines your future.

 

It is that idea of a choices that have long-range impact and the idea of, at some point, not being able to reverse that decision is what I see in this passage of Matthew 25:31-46. It is one of the more famous parables that Jesus gave us, the parable of the sheep and goats. Let’s read it now:

 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 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. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

 

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 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, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

 

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For 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.’

 

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

 

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

 

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

 

Jesus used sheep and goats to illustrate the division between believers and unbelievers. Sheep and goats often grazed together but were separated when it came time to sleep at night or when the sheep needed to be sheared. There will come a time of separation for the sheep and goats, the believers and unbelievers. It is guaranteed. It will come. This parable also depicts the difference between true believers and those who reject Jesus Christ. This parable describes acts that signify the nature of the true believer. These acts do not depend on wealth, ability or intelligence. They are simple acts freely given and freely received. We have no excuse to reject those who have deep needs and we cannot abdicate these responsibilities to the collective that we know as the church or to the government. Jesus demands our personal involvement in caring for the needs of others. The point of this parable is not the who but the what – the importance of serving where service is needed. The focus of this parable is that the believer in Jesus Christ by nature overflows with thanksgiving and sees the needs of the world around us and we serve because we do it to give Jesus glory. We have love for others in the way that Jesus loves us – a sacrificial love that does not demand repayment. Those who reject Jesus or have never heard of Jesus are the “what’s in it for me” people of the world. Those are the people who have no love for anyone other than themselves. All their acts of love in this world are done with an eye to satisfying their own needs. There will be judgment for each of us based on whether we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. We will be separated to heaven or hell.

 

I love the beauty of this parable. You see that it is split down the middle between the positive view of the believer and his actions in vv. 31-39 and the negative view of the unbeliever and his actions in vv. 40-46. The King’s positive declaration in vv. 34-36 is matched by its opposite at vv. 41-43. The righteous ones’ response to the King’s declaration at vv. 37-39 is matched by its opposite at vv. 44. The King’s explanation at v. 40 finds its opposite at v. 45. And the reward of the righteous found at vv. 34 finds its opposite in the   final verse of the passage at v. 46. There is one way or the other. Also, note, too, in v. 34, that the blessing precedes the reasons why the righteous were receiving their blessing whereas on the negative half of the passage the curse upon the unrighteous comes after the reasons why they are being cast out into the darkness. All these symmetries play into what Jesus is saying here. There is a choice that we make about Jesus. We see him as Lord and Savior and serve our fellow man as serving Jesus. We serve our fellow man as if we were serving Jesus. We are so thankful for our salvation, our service to our fellow man is simply our way of repaying Jesus Christ. We do not see it as earning anything but simply showing our love for Jesus by showing love to others so that they can see Jesus in us. It is through this humility we have to be reminded by Jesus of the good deeds that we did.

 

In opposition to that humility is the pride of those who reject Jesus. It is those who think that they have got it all figured out. Those that reject God and think that they control their own destiny and even that there is no eternity. They reject God and place themselves in His place. They make all roads leading to heaven their mantra so that they can pick and choose what works for their lifestyle. We make ourselves our own god. We make Jesus just one of the ways to get to heaven. We make the Bible an antiquated document that does not apply today. We make it just a good book instead of the Good Book. We become self-centered and self-seeking. We make it all about us and anything that is not about us, we toss aside. Everything is about how it affects us. When we are one of these people, we make God a myth and say there is no judgment. We say that all this judgment stuff is simply the archaic ways of the church to keep man in line and stifle his freedom of thought. When the end comes for them, they will find that there is a judgment but they will think that they were good enough and they will be reminded of how they trampled on Jesus by how they treated others and in so doing disrespected God. They will have to be shown the err of their ways because they will have no clue as to why they would be condemned. It will be then that they will be condemned. The difference between the righteous and the unrighteous is that the righteous know how desperately they need Jesus for they know that they are never going to be good enough on their own. The unrighteous fool themselves into thinking that they have got it covered. They will have to have their sins pointed out and how the first sin condemns us. They will not realize that they need Jesus until it is too late.

 

What does all this mean for you and me? How can we apply this to our lives? I think that as Christians this coming judgment is call for us to seek out the goats out there and help them see that they need Jesus. It is a tough job to witness to the proud but how much do we really have to hate that guy who thinks he doesn’t need Jesus not to fight that fight. Eternity is at stake. We were put here on earth with a mission. Every day that we take a breath means that we have work to do to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to a world that sometimes doesn’t even recognize its need for Jesus. With each one that we save from the precipice of hell through the changing power of the Holy Spirit that leads to salvation, there will be another that serves his fellow man in thanksgiving to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. There will be another who sees serving his fellow man as serving his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

May we be a generation that loves the goats so much that we lead them to the cross that makes them sheep. Amen and Amen.

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