The sheep and the goats, faithful and lazy servants, the foolish virgins and the wise. A long chapter in Matthew’s gospel, we’ve heard it over these last three weeks. I wonder what Jesus is trying to tell us?
As our church year comes to an end, we look to the end of the church on this earth. Since Pentecost the Holy Spirit has been teaching the church, who we are and what we can do. But now we hear the end. The Last Judgement, when Jesus reveals Himself to all, in glory, to judge the living and the dead. Jesus, high above all the rubbish and corruption of our governments here on earth. Jesus is the King of kings, Lord of lords, simply He is in charge (Revelation 19:16). And when He finally reveals Himself, He will reveal all things. He will show who you are to the whole world, what you have done, just as at a court case. After all He is the righteous judge (2 Timothy 4:8). He will say to the sheep, come; and to the goats, get lost! So, who are you? A sheep? Or a goat?
To the goats He said, depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Eternal punishment, not meant for people. Rather Jesus tells us God prepared it for our enemy and his agents, not for those people who reject God’s love, who refuse to love others, but made just for the demons. As God says through Ezekiel, just a chapter before our reading today, thus says the Lord, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). But still, this is where the wicked condemn themselves to, what those who reject Christ’s love and mercy receive. Those who reject life, don’t get it.
Does this make you uneasy? Does it make you afraid? For yourself, your friends and family? For all those people in our community, in our world who do not know Christ? Yes? Good! When Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, He knew His words would not bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Christ speaks harshly throughout the gospels, it’s no different than the prophets who proclaimed His coming. God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus, the King, speaks harshly to those at peace with their sin. To pierce their hearts, to terrify and crush the conscience, showing us our sin in the face of God’s holiness, seeing our sin as God sees it.
Yes, Christ came to crush the unrepentant sinner, He is harsh with the arrogant and individualistic goats. But not with the humble, listening sheep. To the sheep He says, ‘come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world!’ ‘Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Gentle and tender He speaks to the broken sinner, to the lost sheep, healing the injured, strengthening the weak (Ezekiel 34:16). The kingdom prepare for you, not angels, not just those great saints since the beginning, for you. God declared to the serpent in the garden, His foot will crush your head (Genesis 3:15). From the foundation of the world, our Heavenly Father planned for you to come into His kingdom, to receive life, life forever in peace, joy and love with Him, Father, Son and Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-5; Titus 1:1-2). When Christ does return, we will know where we stand, everyone will. Yet what hope does He give those listening 2000yrs ago, what hope does this passage give you?
Who are the sheep? They are those blessed by the Father. You are blessed by the Father, at the end of every Divine Service He makes this clear. And the sheep inherit the kingdom. You are children of God, adopted in Baptism by the Holy Spirit, you are now co-heirs with Christ to this Heavenly Kingdom prepared from the beginning (Matthew 3:17; Romans 8:17). The sheep come to Jesus. You come to Jesus and receive from Him His flesh and blood (John 6:53; Philippians 3:21). The sheep, made righteous in the blood of the lamb, receive eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:21). You receive the life of Christ as we, His Church, are united with Him in the mystery of God’s love (Ephesians 3:6, 9). In His presence today (Matthew 18:20). In His speaking to us through His Word. In His forgiveness and life given in baptism, absolution, Holy Communion. Who are the sheep? We are, God has promised. Who is the church? We are, alongside all the saints across space and time. And what can we do now, as the Church? Serve those in need, those locked up or housebound, those suffering addiction or disease, those hungry, hurting, naked and needy people in our families, in our parish, in our towns. Lord have mercy on us and make our desires yours, that we may care so much that we don’t even notice when we serve others.
And as you serve, as we wait, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to life everlasting. Amen.
Pastor Joseph Graham.