Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sheep and Goats

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Saturday, February 8, 2014:  Matthew 25:31-26:13

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  Matthew 25:31-32 (NKJV)

Heaven and Hell

Eternal destiny is a reality -- Heaven and Hell.  We have witnessed a succession of books and movies during the past several years about "after-life experiences".  All deal with going to Heaven.  We've yet to hear a "Hell-and-back" story.  Wonder why.

Jesus talked about Heaven and Hell more than any other individual in Scripture.  One of the most vivid and disputed parables about this subject is found in Matthew 25:31-46.  It's the story of the sheep and goats.  There are several important truths that jump out to me as we read through this passage.

1. The Judgment of Nations

This "sheep and goat" story is also called "The Judgment of Nations".  Matthew 25:32 says that when the Son of Man returns at the end of time and is seated in His glory "all nations will be gathered before Him." 

I do not think this refers to some kind of United Nations determination of which nation is good and which is bad.  I think the interpretation is not political but rather representative.  When Jesus speaks of nations He is referring to "all mankind" -- every tribe and tongue and people group -- every human being -- not just Israel.

2.  Sheep and Goats

It was a common practice in biblical times to have a flock mixed with both sheep and goats.  We should not press this illustration beyond Jesus' meaning.  He is not saying that sheep are intrinsically good and goats bad.  He is simply using a common occurrence to describe a spiritual reality. 

These mixed flocks were separated every evening by their shepherd.  The sheep liked open air and were allowed to spend the night in the open field.  Goats disliked exposure and required a barn or shelter.  Jesus is saying that, just like a shepherd separates his flock in the evening, all mankind will be separated at the end of time. 

3. The Basis of the Separation

This is where the conflict comes.  A casual reading seems to suggest that salvation (Heaven vs. Hell) is the result of good works -- feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.  The sheep did the good works; the goats did not.  However, Scripture never contradicts itself and the Bible elsewhere tells us that salvation is by faith through the grace of God and not by our good works (John 1:12; Acts 15:11, Romans 3:22-24; Romans 4:4-8; Romans 7:24-25; Romans 8:12; Galatians 3:6-9; Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5).

So, were the sheep and goats separated on the basis of how they treated the poor?  Can we claim Heaven over Hell if we do the right kind of works?  This is NOT what Jesus is saying!  The good works (feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick) are not the CAUSE of salvation.  They are the EVIDENCE of salvation. 

Cause and Effect

"Sheep and goats" are nothing more than an outward symbol of an inward reality.  The sheep are the righteous.  How did they get that way?  By faith in the finished work of Christ!  The goats are the cursed.  Why are they cursed?  Not because they didn't feed the poor.  "Goats" can indeed do many great and commendable works and yet their hearts may be still not right toward God.  Eternal destiny is not determined by what you do, but by Who you believe.

Jesus is telling us that faith in Him will show up in your life.  He is saying that righteousness is more than a doctrine; it is a force that propels us into a life of service.  That righteous is the CAUSE that produces a glorious EFFECT. 

This is true Christianity.  It is a relationship with Jesus.  It is also a relationship with a fallen world.  After all, "God so loved THE WORLD..."

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