Sheep Separated from the Goats

July 17, 2005 / No. 3263

Dear Radio Friends,

     The Word of God that we consider together today is found in Matthew 25, which gives to us several vivid pictures of the final day of judgment.

     We have been considering the very practical subject of Christian hospitality — the love of strangers, the love of the brethren.  And we hope to focus soon on love for our children.  But before we enter into that subject of covenantal instruction, we would like today to look at the fact that the final day of judgment will have everything to do with this matter of hospitality.

     Using parabolic language, the Lord Jesus uses earthly illustrations to teach spiritual principles.  In Matthew 25 He really gives three parables — first, the parable of the virgins (wise and foolish); then, the second parable on God-given talents and the use of those talents.  But both those parables point to the final parable, which we want to consider for a few moments today.  It has to do with the call to prepare for the final day of judgment, with regard to the exercise of Christian hospitality.

     Please open your Bibles and read Matthew 25:31ff.  This Word of God clearly points out that we have in this passage the final day of judgment.  When Christ returns, He not only returns as the Bridegroom for His bride, not only as the faithful Lord to judge His servants, but now, as we see, He comes really as the Judge, the great Shepherd, who will separate the sheep from the goats.  The King, we read in verse 34, shall say unto His sheep, who are on his right hand, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  What a wonderful word of comfort and welcome to glory!

     Then He goes on in this passage to explain to them that while we were here on this earth we manifest ourselves, indeed, as Christ’s sheep and citizens of the kingdom, because, as He says, “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took me in:  naked, and ye clothed me:  I was sick, and ye visited me:  I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”  The righteous, we read in this passage, are flabbergasted, they are bewildered, and they respond saying:  “Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee…?”  Then, in verse 40 of Matthew 25 (one of my most favorite verses in the entire Scriptures), “the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

     So, I want to speak with you for a few moments today on that final day of judgment, when the sheep are separated from the goats:  when it will take place; why it will take place; and with what blessing.

     The text tells us when that will take place (v. 31), “when the Son of man shall come in his glory.”  The reference is clearly to the glorious day promised in Scripture when Christ shall return at the end of the ages.  The Lord Jesus Christ is described as the Son of man because, as you know, He came in human flesh.  The Son of God, the second person of the holy Trinity, yet He came as Immanuel, God with us, that He might suffer and die for our sins and then rise again on the third day and ascend to heaven as the Head of His people.

     But, as our text points out, the day is coming when the Son of man shall return in His glory.  Notice:  “And all the holy angels with him,” who serve as ministering servants in the day of judgment.  The picture is clear.  Then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory (although already now He is at the right hand of God), in order that all the nations may know that, indeed, He is King of kings and Lord of lords.  He will arrive with all majesty and glory with His angels.  And He will be there, sitting on His throne.  Notice, “before him shall be gathered all nations:  and he shall separate them” as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  That is the ultimate purpose of the final day of judgment.  This is, of course, for the comfort of God’s people who may suffer at the present time.  In that final day, the great Shepherd of the sheep will separate the sheep from the goats.

     For the sheep, to use the metaphor in this passage, during the day (today, throughout the New Testament era) are mixed with the goats.  At the end time, however, there will come finally glory and rest and eternal peace.  Even as the shepherd will divide, at the end of each day, the sheep from the goats, so Christ will come in judgment to separate the sheep from the goats.

     In verse 34, Christ is speaking to the sheep who are on His right hand with those comforting words:  “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  I ask you to pay careful attention to that as we meditate on this Scripture, especially as we look at the manifestation of their good works — of love, of hospitality and compassion one to another — that we might not think that somehow, after all, our salvation is dependent upon our works.  Not at all!  Christ comforts the sheep with these words:  “Ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

     Indeed, they have that wonderful assurance that, after all, they have been blessed by the Father and have been given that eternal life and that unconditional love of the Father even before this world began.  As the church is being gathered here on earth in the midst of the world, oftentimes this Word of the gospel is not fully proclaimed to them.  They need to be reminded that they are as the elect sheep amongst the goats.  They are as the wheat, and there are always going to be the presence of the tares.  They are even, sometimes, mocked at, and they are oftentimes very insignificant.  Sometimes God’s people begin to struggle and think, “Well, perhaps there is nothing better.”  Or, worse yet, there can creep into the church the idea that God’s people must strive to do good works in order to be saved or to become big and significant in the world, in order to be counted for something.  But, beloved, let us remember that the Judgment Day comes, and the day of reward comes, in that glorious day when Christ will usher in the new heavens and the new earth.

     I remember a story that was once told me of a missionary who went to a faraway land.  He was laboring for some thirty years away from his homeland, from his family.  He had his wife with him, but, other than that, it was a very lonely environment, and there was, besides, much persecution, and he had grown old.  Now he was returning home.  He was on the ship.  The ship took dock at his homeland.  Then he saw this band playing.  And he saw all these beautiful decorations there at the harbor.  He had a smile in his heart and on his face.  And he thought, “Well, finally I am home and finally I am being welcomed.”  As he got off the ship and down to the dock he realized that all that band playing and all those decorations and all the welcome was because there were some other important people on board.  It was not for him at all!  There was nobody at the harbor to receive him!  His wife thought that he looked a bit down.  And she asked him why.  He said, “Oh, don’t worry about it.  I guess the welcome was not really for me.”  And the darling wife, who had labored with him for some thirty years, gave him an embrace and said, “Dear, remember what you have always preached?  Remember what you said to the people before you left the mission field?  Our reward is not here on this earth.  We have a far greater reward to come.”  That cheered him up.  And that must make us be thankful and look forward to that glorious day when Christ shall come, even as this passage of Scripture reminds us.

     The sheep are separated from the goats.  We read in this passage of Scripture, “Come, ye blessed of my Father.”  So the basis of the royal welcome is not the works of men. Many take this passage and teach that so long as you are busy in good works, perhaps serving even in the cause of missions, then you can expect a glorious day of reward.  We must be warned, the Scriptures tell us, Jesus Himself, that we must not think that on that last day we can cry out, “Lord, Lord, we did this and we did that,” as if, somehow, our reward is going to be on the basis of our good works.  Not at all!  When the final judgment comes, we must look for those precious words, “Come, ye blessed of my Father.  The kingdom was prepared for you from before the foundation of the world.”  It is all of grace!  After all, we must remember that an inheritance is never earned.  It is a gift.  It is left behind by parents for their children.  Of course, in foolishness, sometimes children like to imagine that they deserve something from their parents.  Then, very sadly, there is so much sibling rivalry over the inheritance.  But, the truth is, an inheritance is a gift.  It is sovereignly prepared, by God, before the foundation of the world for His people.

     But now, although in fact salvation is by grace, and although our inheritance and our reward is by grace, we must realize what the passage of Scripture here is teaching us.  Jesus says, “The sheep are separated from the goats for a reason.”  He says, “For when I was an hungered, ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.  I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”  Notice the response of the sheep:  they are amazed.  They are bewildered.  They did not come boasting.  They did not come saying, “Lord, we did this or we did that in your name.”  Not at all.  What their left hand had done their right hand did not know and remember.

     But the King shall answer and say unto them, “Verily, verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.”  You see, the sheep here are reminded that while they were on earth they manifested that they were, indeed, a people of God when they were zealous of good works.  And that good work that they performed was especially to the household of faith, in that they served the brethren, even the least of the brethren.  When they saw a brother hungry or thirsty, they did not turn the other way.  They sought to meet that need.  When they heard of a brother who was in prison, they did not say, “Oh, we don’t have time, we pray!”  They did indeed pray for such a one in prison, but they also went to visit him in prison.

     As I said in my introduction, this is one of my favorite verses in all of holy Writ.  When my wife and I were in Zeeland, Michigan during my seminary days, we had a doctor who showed us much kindness in helping with the whole process of the pregnancy and delivery.  In order that we could show him appreciation, we made him a memento, after the delivery, with a picture of our twin boys who were our firstborn.  Underneath the picture are the words of this passage of Scripture in Matthew 25:40.  Significant, is it not, that Christ should point to the fact that this was done to the least of these His brethren — not to the greatest, but to the least.  Not to those who, perhaps, are the noble, the rich, the well-known, so that if you were to do some act of kindness to them, it would become very well known and even appreciated in the midst of the church or the world — but to the least of these My brethren, to those who, perhaps, are not much appreciated and who do not receive much attention in the body of Christ.  Jesus says, “Blessed are you, for when ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.”  And, on that basis, Christ gives to them the reward of everlasting life — not because they had merited it, but because they were the blessed of the Father, and therefore manifested this fruit in their lives, for the Scriptures tell us that they who are born of God will also love others who are born of God.  They who have the love of God in their hearts will also exercise that love one towards another.  That has been the theme throughout this series:  we must walk in love for the stranger, for the brethren, and then also for our children.

     When that day comes, when the sheep will be separated from the goats, there will be great blessing.  Not so for the wicked, of course, for He will say to the wicked who are on the left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”  That separation is sharp.  That separation is fatal!  Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.

     Notice the contrast, too.  Jesus says to the goats:  “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat:  I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink.”  Instead of showing mercy to the people of God, they were found to be cruel and to be wicked.  They deny this:  “When were we walking in such a way that we did not show kindness and mercy?  When did we see you hungry and gave you no meat…?”  And Jesus says, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”  Then He announces that they must be cast away into everlasting punishment.

     Now, a very serious question.  One might now ask, “Are you saying to us, Rev. Mahtani, that our salvation is after all dependent upon our works?”  The answer to that question is this:  The fruit of our salvation and our blessedness in Christ is that we will love the brethren!  If you hate the saints and ignore them now; if you despise them now and pretend and imagine that you are a Christian; then I say to you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that what you will face at the day of judgment is indeed everlasting punishment of hell and destruction.  For it is impossible for the child of God to know the blessing and favor of God, and then to turn around and walk in cruelty and hatred against the people of God.

     This is a very serious warning.  Those who claim to be Christian must not forsake the assembling of God’s people together.  Those who claim to be Christian, who have known the love of Christ and the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, must not turn around and say that they have nothing to do with the people of God.

     Let me give you an example.  Here I have come to experience the tender love and mercy of God in that He will forgive such a sinner as I am.  Graciously and freely He has blotted out my iniquities in the blood of Jesus Christ.  Not on account of anything I have done, but only because of Christ’s death on the cross God has forgiven me.  Now, is it right for me to turn around and pull my brother by the collar and be unwilling to forgive my brother, to have a bitter spirit against my brother the rest of my life and, in fact, foolishly walk in hatred against my brother?  Worse yet, attempt to take the life of my brother?  May I do that?  And may I then say, “But I know the forgiveness of God”?  That is impossible.  If I truly have come to know the forgiveness of the Lord my God in Jesus Christ, then the fruit of it will be that I learn to forgive my brother also.  If I have come to know the love of God unconditionally given to me in Jesus Christ, then I must learn more and more to love my neighbor as myself.

     Then the righteous, we read, shall enter into eternal life.  What a word they will hear when there is a royal welcome awaiting them at the gates of heaven!  Christ Himself, as the King, will say, “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world because ye are the blessed of My Father.  Come, not go away (depart), but come, come in, and inherit with Me.  Be princes and princesses in the kingdom of God.”  Why?  Because of all that we have done?  No!  But “because ye are the blessed of My Father.  Ye are those who have been shown favor and grace of My Father.  And in that grace you have manifest that love to the brethren.  So it will be grace for grace, you see.  Even when you did it to the least of these My brethren, the point is that you did it unto Me.”

     For, you see, it was then the fruit of the righteousness that we have in Jesus Christ.  When we see the weak and the hungry we do not, and we must not, then show love and compassion for the praise of men.  We do not and must not do it even simply because we want to be humane and make this world a better place to live in.  But we must do so out of gratitude to God for the righteousness that He has wrought for us in Christ.  The motive must be love for the people of God.  The motive, ultimately, must be love unto Jesus Christ who died for us and who is coming again.  The motive must be that, because God has loved us, we show the love of God by manifesting that love to the brethren.  Oh, yes, now in much weakness, but then in perfection, when the Son of man comes and brings us to glory.

     May God give us grace, then, that we truly learn to love the brethren and to love the stranger.  For, who knows if God places on the pathway of our lives those whom we may not recognize as fellow saints but who truly are the people of God.  Some have entertained angels unawares, according to Hebrews 11:2.  Thus are we reminded to love the brethren, to love the stranger.

     Perhaps it is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who now would place upon our pathway a stranger, one we do not know, who has been brought in by another.  Perhaps it is a brother who is in prison on account of his own weakness and sin.  What do we do?  Do we say, “Well, he deserves it”?  Or, “Well, let somebody else go visit him”?  Or do we prayerfully consider if indeed we are called, as God’s people, as the sheep of Jesus Christ who have been loved with such an everlasting love, to make their prayer for the brother in prison, to count ourselves as bound with those who are bound and to go, even, to visit such a brother in prison.

     Those are examples.  As we conclude this part of our series, looking at the Judgment Day when the sheep will be separated from the goats, may the Lord impress upon our hearts that as we are called to show love to our neighbor, including both love for the stranger and love for the brethren.  In the weeks to come, I want to emphasize our calling to love our children.

     I trust that nothing in this series takes away from that!  We are called to show love to our children.  Godly, parental instruction.  Godly rearing of our children in the covenant — this is an essential aspect of the Reformed faith.  But we must balance that with what we have seen in the weeks gone by.  May God work that in our hearts, that we might be found lovers of strangers, lovers of the brethren, and lovers of our children.

     Let us pray.

     Our Father which art in heaven, we come to Thee to thank Thee that Thou hast caused Thy love to be shed abroad in our hearts, so that now we might also walk in love for the brethren.  Thou hast forgiven us.  Help us to forgive others.  Thou hast shown to us such love.  Help us then to extend that even to the brethren.  We look for that blessed day when Christ will finally come upon the clouds of glory.  Come, Lord Jesus, Amen.