Grace mercy and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This parable is different than those we have been reading in the last couple weeks. First there is not the familiar “The kingdom of god is like…” or the “the kingdom of heaven is like…” This is not a parable in the way that we normally think of them; when Jesus tells a story in order for us to try and understand something about God. He would usually tell about normal everyday characters, so we could understand as much as our human minds could comprehend about God. This is a direct prophecy of the end times. It may be written in a parable form, but our Lord is telling us exactly, without metaphors or allegories, what is going to happen at the final judgment.
The end times and final judgment have fascinated people for centuries. Artists have painted untold number of terrifying images on the subject. Many thousands of gallons of ink have been spilled in the printing of all the books on the different theories on the end of the world and the final judgment. Movies, like the Left Behindseries have been made. Theologians have debated for years over pre-millennial, post-millennial or amillenialism or some other theory. After it is all said and done they all come done to this, Judgment Day. Because God loves us so much, he wanted to make sure we knew exactly what is going to happen. So His Son, told us precisely how we will be judged.
In Joel chapter 3 we find, Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. As recorded for us in our gospel lesson, Jesus will judge all nations, everyone; they will all be in front of him. Isaiah tells us that “He (the coming judge) shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,” Jerome, the church father that wrote the original Roman Catholic Latin Bible said, that the people standing there would be like trees in the winter. Looking at them you cannot tell which is alive and which is dead. Neither have leaves and both look dead. But Christ, the one that sees without using his eyes and hears without his ears will read people’s hearts. He will separate them as easily as a shepherd separates sheep and goats, two very different looking animals.
The goats our Lord is talking about are young kid or male goats, the least valuable of the farm animals. In the ancient world female goats were much more highly prized than male goats. Female goats produce milk and more goats. Female goats were the main source of milk and cheese in the Middle East. Male goats were a liability, they ate scarce food that could be fed to female goats to produce more milk and more babies; they were basically “soon to be goat burgers” on the hoof. At that time, sheep were much more valuable, the more sheep you had the richer you were. Sheep could produce wool, the more you had, the more money you could make. Sheep are more valuable in another way, believers are described as sheep. In John 14 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep”. So not only are sheep valuable to herders of the ancient near east, we are valuable to Christ. We know him and follow him.
Christ will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. They are judged. This is a very terrifying scene, it is meant to be, our Lord wants us to know the truth. To understand the scene, we could look at an event which happens in today’s world. Let say that you are driving down the interstate, and maybe you’re driving a little too fast. You come to the top of a hill, and sitting in the median there he is, a state trooper. You slam on your brakes, but you know what is going to happen and it does, he starts driving behind you. Soon the lights on top of his car start flashing and you pull to the side of the road. The officer walks to your car to obtain your license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration. Then he asks the question, “Why were you driving so fast?” Let me tell you no matter how polite, respectful and courteous your voice is, the answer can never be, “Well, I didn’t see you sitting there”. That answer will always result with you being handed a piece of paper with an address printed on it so you know where to send your money. It is the same way for those on our Lord’s right and left, but they both answer, “I didn’t see you”
In our reading the King will say to those on His right, the sheep, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. What have we done to inherit the kingdom of heaven? We didn’t do anything; it was only through Christ work on the cross. In the Old Testament we read that children inherit property; we became children of God when we were baptized. When we were baptized we became co-heirs to the kingdom, along with our brothers and sisters in the faith. After declaring to the sheep that they were going to heaven, he goes on to tell them, what he saw without his using His eyes.
The king says,“ For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”. It is important to note that this followed them being told they were going to inherit this eternal kingdom prepared before time began. But now you might be saying, “wait a minute Vicar, you have been telling us for months that we are saved by grace alone, and Jesus is listing works”. “Are we really saved by our works as Jesus seems to be saying here, are you going against Jesus?” But is that what Jesus said?
Let me answer that question with a story. In a sales school the question was asked, “What is your job?” The obvious answer was shouted out, to “sell equipment”. That is the obvious answer, so of course it is wrong. After a few moments some other answers come out like, “make the most you can on the sale” or “solve the customer’s problems”. These were wrong answers too. What was the right answer? As with any vocation you are “To do the work of your boss”. That’s what these righteous sheep had done, their master was Jesus, that is where their faith was and they did what he told them to do. The king said “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”.They fed the poor, they visited the sick, gave cloths to those that needed it, welcomed strangers and visited those in prison, all for the king. They didn’t see him there because they were only following the master’s instructions; they were doing what they were told. These sheep were already saved; they were now doing what he instructed them to do. When you become a follower of Christ, you want to follow his commands.
Isaiah says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”. That is where the goats come in. Their works were rooted in the deeds of man; they are always polluted by sin. Their works were not done for the king they were done for their master, themselves. Naturally people want to think that at the Judgment Day, there will be a ledger of all the good and bad we done in our lives, and that will decide our salvation. Jesus tells us it is not our works but our faith in him. It is not even our sins, they aren’t even mentioned here; those can be forgiven. The works done by the righteous, were done as evidence they were saved. They used the blessings that the Lord had granted them wisely for others; an outward sign that they are saved. The unrighteous used their works for themselves; they were not good witnesses for Christ. Their faith is not in Christ, their faith is in themselves.
When the unrighteous are told they did not do the list of things for the king, the respond with an interesting answer. They say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” They don’t complete the thought. They don’t say “when did I see you hungry and not feed you?” They were basically answering with half the information. This is a very common thing for us to do when we are trying to make an excuse for something. At the final judgment, there will be no excuses or talking our way out of the situation, only the facts.
As mentioned before both the sheep and goats will look the same. Their deeds will look the same, just like the winter trees that Jerome had written about, but the Judge will know the difference. He sees through men’s deeds, he can read their hearts and know where their faith lies. How do we live so that we do not get sent to eternal punishment? Don’t deny the grace the Christ provides for you. He loved you so much that he died on the cross for you. While we were still sinners, still the enemy of his father, he was willing to go to the cross for us. Your sins are forgiven because of this work on the cross. When your faith is in Christ and you perform acts of mercy, they are performed for him. They are not performed for selfish reasons, but for Christ and his kingdom, because you are saved.
In the name of the one’s whose instructions we follow
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts in Christ Jesus, Amen