Sunday sermon 22 March 2015 – sheep and goats

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Sermon

We are reaching the end of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s gospel – just before he faces his Passion. Chapter 26 verse 1 says this: When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:1-2)

It’s a turning point. And it’s interesting that this last teaching – in Matthew’s gospel anyway – is this parable of the sheep and the goats.

Coming to New Zealand for us was a very interesting experience. I used to joke about it when asked whether I would consider ministering here: “Oh too many sheep” I would reply. “I’ve got my hands full already!”

And when we did arrive in Wellington, it was quite a while before we actually saw sheep. I remember my wife getting quite excited when it happened – on the way up the Hutt River Valley towards Kaitoke Regional Park – one of our favourites and the site of the set of Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings.

Sheep and goats.

This is a parable isn’t it? The comparison is in verse 32: “…he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

That’s about as far as the comparison goes. There is no other link – not even the tails up of the goats and tails down of the sheep (or is it the other way round?) give us anything to compare or relate to.

Here’s the fascinating thing. I mean you would want to be a sheep on that day would you not?

It’s time to resurrect my first song I taught the children here:“I just want to be a sheep, baa ba ba baa. I don’t want to be a goat, no no no no, cause goats have got no hope, I don’t want to be a goat.”

Of course we teach the children about following Jesus as good little sheep – but we seldom talk about the eternal punishment awaiting the goats. Eternal punishment! Unlike their time-out in the corner etc.

Some thoughts came to mind this week. Here they are.

  • Okay it’s just a simile about separation.
  • This will happen at the end of things? Yes/no?
  • The sheep and goats will coexist (as they often did grazing together) – which means that the sheep and goats are in the church together? Right?
  • Does that mean that some of you are going to the eternal fire! Right?

Well I don’t know. Have a word with the person next to you and ask them – is it you? Will it be you? What do you think of this parable?

(Pause for discussion.)

(That sounds like the last supper and Jesus trying to root out his betrayer – and they all say “is it I Lord?”)

HOW DO YOU READ YOUR BIBLE THEN?

  • Is this the last judgement?
  • Is the judgement based on ethical behaviour – and not faith or a lack of faith?
  • I thought we were saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2 says after all: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (vss 8-9).)
  • So do you think Paul wrote Ephesians before Matthew wrote Matthew?
  • Did Paul even know what Jesus taught on this matter?

Well it’s more complex than that really. This parable or story is I mean.

  1. For one thing, the righteous in the account and the goaties have no idea when they did or did not do the right thing by Jesus – or to Jesus, when they were doing these things to the least of his brothers – or in the case of the goaties NOT doing these things. This needs some further thought.

Both reply to the King/Judge – “when did we do this/when did we neglect to do this”. They didn’t have a clue. (See verses 37 and 44)

Mat 25:37  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

Mat 25:44  “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?’

The sentences seem to mean the same – but they don’t of course. The first means that they could not make the connection between the good they did and Jesus. They are “righteous” – and the Son of Man knows this – because they have been doing these important acts.

The second is an excuse. As Bonhoeffer has pointed out – an excuse for doing nothing. It’s almost as if they are saying – “now it’s not our fault if we couldn’t identify you” – a bit like the undercover boss programmes on TV. “I’ve I’d known it was the boss in disguise I would have behaved differently.”

  1. Secondly, who are the intended recipients of these acts of mercy and kindness? The least – Christians only, or the least – all created people. What are the chances of the Christians being hungry, thirsty, a stranger needing hospitality, needing clothes, sick and needing help, and in prison and needing some love and care?

Surely the Christians should be employed, wealthy and self-sufficient? When you listen to first world Christians and how scathing they can be about the unemployed who are on benefits, you would assume that we are all prosperity cult members.

And prisoners – nah Christians stay out of trouble. Yeah Right!

In our western arrogance we often see these people (especially unemployed and in jail – maybe not so much the sick) as those people over THERE!!!! – To whom we can give a few dollars on line. Which I do to of course. If you haven’t given something to the people of Vanuatu, then I reckon you could be in trouble here!

Commentators and New Testament students debate as to whether the people we should be helping here in Matthew 26 are family (church family) or simply all created people who land in trouble.

Calvin says – focus on the church, but remember it also applies to others!

Like Paul in Galatians:

Gal 6:9  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Gal 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

THE RIGHTEOUS

When Jesus refers to the righteous – he’s talking about people who have responded to faith – chosen to follow him – and do his will!

The trail goes back to the earlier verses in Matthew’s Gospel.

Mat 12:47  Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

Mat 12:48  He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

Mat 12:49  Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.

Mat 12:50  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

He has this family identified by obedience really!

Go back further in the Gospel and you find this:

Mat 7:15  “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Mat 7:16  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

Mat 7:17  Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

Mat 7:18  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Mat 7:19  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Mat 7:20  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

 Mat 7:21  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Mat 7:22  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’

Mat 7:23  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Mat 7:24  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

And of course we go to another simile (comparison using the word “like” or “as”).

Building your house on the rock is about building your life on the WORDS of Jesus! (I remember preaching on that right here!)

The bottom line in this account is that the king is the Judge.

And we will give account.

And when we follow Jesus we should be doing Jesus stuff.

And the key identifier is probably this one thing: mercy.

Matthew 5:7 reminds us: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

And Luke 6:36:   Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

It has no meaning – this Christian faith – if we are unchanged. Selfish. Like goats with our tails in the air so proud of ourselves – when we should be like sheep with our tails between our legs (or down anyway) because it’s not about us really.

So there it is.

Don’t end up with the devil and his angels. If you can’t get the idea of fire in your head, then listen to Jesus words to the reprobates: V41 – Depart from me….

Amen.

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About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on March 23, 2015, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Reblogged this on Robin Palmer's space and commented:

    From Sunday’s notes…

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