Thursday, September 12, 2013

Considering Jesus' Message concerning the Sheep and the Goats


A handwritten paper pinned on the wall of the chapel where Mother Teresa worked in Calcutta, India said: "When I was homeless you opened your doors. When I was naked you gave me your coat. When I was in prison, you came to my cell. When I was lonely, you gave me your love. Searching for kindness you held out your hand. When I was happy, you shared your joy. Every person, often the ones closest to us, is offering a gift -- a chance to love.” This sounds familiar, doesn't it? As one of her humble friends relates -- Mother Teresa was a powerful servant of God. She was more than a Christian saint...her entire life radiated love and service.

Jesus tells this story in Matthew 25:31-46 -- "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "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. 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 needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "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. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.' "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?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

There is a lot to consider here...and most of it is difficult. As I think about it, I do not believe that most people like this story, or they are at least uncomfortable with it. We certainly do not want to be with the goats, yet everyone believes that they are sheep. The truth is likely somewhere in between. Much of this is due to the fact that we like such stories it as they relate to other people, but we do not like them so well as they relate to us. We have been discussing the end times on Wednesday evenings in recent weeks, and some have expressed certain discomfort with passages like the one above, as well as Matthew 7:21-23, "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. 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?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

It has been well-documented that, as a comprehensive church culture, we have become more so a group of consumers (or takers), rather than producers (or givers). To quote a common refrain, “Everyone’s business is nobody’s business” is not a good principle to live by as it relates to the Christian walk for individuals and churches, but it happens all too often. I believe we have come to the point where being challenged, and getting out of our comfort zone is not only not in vogue, it is no longer welcome at all for many believers. We must be what Jesus called us to be – servants in the kingdom of God. We don’t have to preach a sermon or give a lesson…all we have to do is be the hands and feet of Jesus, and share a smile. Some might think that …concerning a service project or difficult ministry situation…“this is not my thing”. Try it! Surprises will be in store, and blessings will be the result. We have to be challenged in order to grow.

Busyness has become an idol (perhaps the predominant idol) in our culture. We are all busy…yet, we have the same 24 hour period as any group of people in history. I truly don’t believe the Lord expects us all to be Mother Teresa…but when we stand before the Lord on judgment day, He is not going to say, “Well, you were awfully busy – terrific.” He is going to ask, “What did you do to prosper the kingdom?” “What did you do to serve?” And, if we say, “Not much, I was too busy.” He might say – “Go take your place with the goats.” Let’s not be as the saying goes – “Most people wish to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.” Knowing full well that we are saved by grace thorough faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and our salvation has been paid for and we have responded accordingly, we have an obligation and a responsibility to live like “saved” people. This is indeed the other side of the coin. From time to time over the years, some have expressed concern to me as to whether they “have done enough” as it relates trying to get there…or trying, in essence, to work for their salvation. This is simply not possible. Others have expressed concern over whether they have done enough in working out their salvation. (Philippians 2:12-13) I believe that this is a much more important question to ask. I will offer this in closing…to quote the famous musician, Keith Green -- “The difference between the sheep and the goats is -- what they did and did not do.”

Blessings, Don

1 comment:

Randy Elliott said...

Something that must be observed in the story of the sheep and the goats is their response to Jesus' description of them. Jesus told the sheep what they had done. Had they been working from a list, they would have agreed that they had done those things and perhaps even have recorded times and dates. Yet, they responded "When did we do all that?" This shows that they were doing what came naturally to them as sheep of that shepherd.

Jesus said no one can come to Him unless the Father draw them and Peter said that we have everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

When it is HIS glory and goodness that draws us, and when our love is an expression of our experience of His love for us, then we will be about doing what he wills, because this is who we are and he is whose we are.