Parable 13 Sheep and Goats

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Matthew 25:31-46 (HCSB)31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the 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, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

35 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 took Me in;
36 I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’

40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ 41 Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!

42 For I was hungry
and you gave Me nothing to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43 I was a stranger
and you didn’t take Me in;
I was naked
and you didn’t clothe Me,
sick and in prison
and you didn’t take care of Me.’

44 “Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’

45 “Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The good works mentioned in the parable are not the cause of salvation but the effect of salvation. We know from scripture that God is the author and finisher of salvation, it was His plan from the very start. He designed it, He initiates it, He confirms and seals it. It is a work of grace not a work that we can do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (HCSB)And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.

As we can see here as in many other scriptures it was God’s plan from the beginning.  It is God’s blueprint, so to speak, of what he intends to do in time through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. God the Father elects, the Son redeems them, and the Spirit applies the work of Christ to the same. The Trinity, in other words, works in harmony, to bring about the redemption of the elect. God the Father does not do this alone, APART form the work of the other two Persons of the Trinity. All redemptive grace is found in Christ. Ephesians 1:3- 14(HCSB)Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.

We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him 10 for the administration of the days of fulfillment—to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him.

11 We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, 12 so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory.

13 When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.

After reading this clear explanation of salvation why are there so many arguments? Because people want the goats to be saved as well. People don’t want to crucify their pride and say “Hey it is all a work of God and I have no part in this!” How freeing is that thought?!

 

As Christians we become like Christ (Romans 8:28-30(HCSB) 28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son,so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.

Colossians 2:6-7  (HCSB)Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.

 

Galatians 5:22 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Good works in a Christian’s life are the direct overflow of these traits, and are only acceptable to God because of the relationship that exists between servant and Master, the saved and their Savior, the sheep and their Shepherd.

James 2:14-26 (HCSB) 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.

20 Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected. 23 So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness,  and he was called God’s friend.24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different route? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

The separation between “sheep” and “goats” (v. 32) alludes to Ezekiel 34:17–19(HCSB)

17 “The Lord God says to you, My flock: I am going to judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and male goats. 18 Isn’t it enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of the pasture with your feet? Or isn’t it enough that you drink the clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Yet My flock has to feed on what your feet have trampled, and drink what your feet have muddied.

Palestinian shepherds frequently had to separate their flocks this way. Sheep and goats freely intermingled and often looked quite similar in appearance, at least from a distance. We too could probably not guess from superficial knowledge and external appearance who are truly God’s people, but he knows. “His right [hand]” (v. 33) refers to a place of honor; the “left” hand, to a place of disgrace.[1]

This showing us that the church will have sheep and goats, just as it has wheat and weeds. God will be the one to separate them on judgement day. It is hard to distinguish between sheep and goats from  a distance but there is a distinction in their behavior.

Our world is a vastly different place than the agricultural world of the Bible. This difference in lifestyles puts those of us who grew up in cities at a disadvantage when it comes to fully understanding some of Christ’s parables or various biblical metaphors. We simply lack the background. For instance, the Bible’s use of goats and sheep as metaphors for Christians is beyond many of us city folk. Most of us in the church seem to be more familiar with sheep. We hear a great deal about them in sermons and their attributes are fairly common knowledge: Christ is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep

John 10:14-15(HCSB)“I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me, 15 as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. I lay down My life for the sheep.

We know many of the traits of sheep through studies into Psalm 23 and John 10.

Psalm 23:1-4(HCSB)The Lord is my shepherd;there is nothing I lack.He lets me lie down in green pastures;He leads me beside quiet waters.He renews my life;He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.Even when I go through the darkest valley,I fear no danger,for You are with me;Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me

But our mental picture of goats is usually vague. We may think they regularly eat soup cans and ram into people. We will see that the attributes of goats, however, should not to be taken lightly.

What is it about goats that causes God to use them in such a negative light? Goats have many admirable qualities. They are intelligent, sensitive, playful, quick to respond to individual attention and affection. Sounds good, right?

Goats are inconsistent. They are impulsive and unpredictable, devious and contrary. When they are grazing, it is not unusual to see several with their heads through a fence, straining to reach the grass that is always greener on the other side!

Jesus spoke of the final judgment as being like a shepherd separating sheep and goats (shepherds grazed them in mixed flocks). Separating sheep from goats in western countries is not difficult, as the sheep have been bred to accentuate their wool production so they look quite different. However, sheep and goats in Asia and Africa are often similar in appearance.

Non-shepherds find it difficult to distinguish such sheep and goats, but the shepherd knows the difference and easily separates them. For example, there are differences in behaviour: sheep tend to follow; goats go their own way. At the judgment, the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20(HCSB)20 Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—with the blood of the everlasting covenant, will know the difference and will separate those who followed Him from those who went their own way.

John 10:25-28(HCSB) 25 “I did tell you and you don’t believe,” Jesus answered them. “The works that I do in My Father’s name testify about Me. 26 But you don’t believe because you are not My sheep.27 My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

Differences between sheep and goats

  1. Sheep eat grass and a few select herbs. – Spiritual sheep graze on the pure word of God and a few select books, websites and sermons. They are very careful to take in those things that will enhance their understanding of God, not interfere with it. Goats will nibble on grass and herbs and weeds and trees and paper. – “Goats” will “eat” any thing.
  2. Sheep will not try fences,They are content with what they have. Goats are difficult animals to keep in. they will go under or over or through most any fence, unless of course they decide to just open the gate. Spiritual goats are always trying the boundaries; always trying to see how close to the edge they can get. They are not content with the boundaries placed by God in their lives.

3.Sheep have 1-3 babies at a time. They keep their babies by their side at all times, nursing them frequently. A mama sheep isn’t much of a threat to any predator, but she will stand and fight to the death to protect her baby.

Goats have many babies (2-5) at a time. They leave them for long periods of time coming back only to nurse a couple of times a day. If a predator comes it may fight the predator  But if it comes to a choice between her baby and her own life, she will run away; abandon her kids.

We should be spiritual sheep when caring for our spiritual lambs.

We should “mother” our new converts like sheep.

We should become a part of their lives, helping them to learn to “eat” the pure Word of God.

We need to teach them the dangers of “eating” the wrong things and trying the boundaries.

We should defend them from Satan to the death.

By now, a goat’s characteristics should be clear. They are not evil, but some of their traits could be deadly—spiritually—if found in a Christian. What would we call a Christian who is unpredictable? A goat! Or one who thinks he is above it all? A goat! Or one who independently does his own thing? A goat! What would we call a Christian who wants to take over, has trouble functioning in a group, and does not want to be led? A goat!

Goats in a congregation tend to divide it, leading the sheep astray.

Many of us probably have goat-like characteristics. Some good, some bad. Most of us know these things about ourselves, and we try hard not to admit them. But now that we understand the biblical metaphor about goats, and what Christ says their ultimate end will be, we can look on this side of ourselves in a more urgent light.

A Christian cannot stand still, yet not all movement is proper growth. A Christian’s life must move in the right direction, along the path that leads to the Kingdom of God. We do not want to be sidetracked, to follow a road of our own choosing, on a whim or out of stubbornness or independence.

A sheep follows its Shepherd, peacefully moving forward with the flock. He is content to be led because he has faith in Him. A sheep responds to his Shepherd’s voice and goes where He directs.

A goat follows only its own lead, creating disunity when he comes in contact with others in the flock. Because of his independent nature, he often finds himself in contention with the Shepherd for leadership of the flock, leading some astray. A goat often eats things sheep would avoid because they have no value and cause sickness.

Therefore you will know the sheep from the goats by their behavior. Sheep will do the will of the Shapherd while goats are rebellious and in it for themselves. This is the point of this whole parable,  Jesus is saying the sheep will show compassion and feed, clothe, and take of others. While goats will only do it if they have something to gain out of it.

These are serious spiritual characteristics. Which are you, a sheep or a goat?

The core message of the Parable of the Sheep and Goats is that God’s people will love others. Good works will result from our relationship to the Shepherd. Followers of Christ will treat others with kindness, serving them as if they were serving Christ Himself. The unregenerate live in the opposite manner. While “goats” can indeed perform acts of kindness and charity, their hearts are not right with God, and their actions are not for the right purpose – to honor and worship God.

 

[1] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 376.

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