Baa, baa, black sheep
Well, here's the famous passage as found in the New American Standard Bible (the NASB).
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, "Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 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 invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me." Then the righteous will answer Him, "Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?" The King will answer and say to them, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me. Then He will also say to those on His left, " Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me." Then they themselves also will answer, "Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?" Then He will answer them, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.Matthew 25:31-46
You know what? The more I read this and think about it the more obvious it becomes! It used to confuse me quite a bit, and I think I mostly ignored the implications because I didn't have any idea how this was supposed to fit into grace.
First, consider WHEN this was spoken.
It was AFTER these significant encounters with the religious establishment of the day:
The Pharisees and the Sadducees (along with the scribes and lawyers) had ganged up on Jesus with a series of Catch-22 questions where any answer he gave would trap him. It didn't work. For somehow, Jesus was able to evade their deceptions by turning their logic back on them. Their attempts backfired on them so bad that they were put to shame in front of all the people. The religious leaders had done this to themselves. Then Jesus denounced the whole religious leadership in front of everybody where he repeatedly called them hypocrites, and exposed their religious game to all.
Don't miss this! The best that man could come up with was unmasked in front of all as being a total LIE. Those who were supposed to be the representatives of God were declared to be the masters of EVIL and were to be held accountable for all the evil done by their predecessors.
Where did this leave the rest of them? The leaders must have been grinding their teeth at him! The people must have been totally disillusioned! The disciples knew that their connection with Jesus left them no where else to go, and yet they didn't have the faintest idea what Jesus was up to ... they must have had fear growing within them at each moment.
Jesus then began telling his disciples about things to come and how it would go from bad to worse! He warned them to watch out for those who would try to mislead them. And how they would become hated by people everywhere.
He told a few stories:
The first was about the ten virgins. Five were foolish, five were wise. What made the difference? The oil. Five didn't think they needed it and didn't take any, but five did and had what they needed when the bridegroom came. Don't look too deep at this, for it was a simple picture of something they would have been familiar with. Overlooking the need for the OIL is what made the one group foolish and caused them to miss the wedding. Having the OIL is what made the other group wise and gave them access to the wedding.
The second story was about the talents (which was money). Three men were given a different quantity of money based on their ability to produce a profit. Two of the men had used the money and had come back with a profit for their master, but the third man hid the money given to him and gave it back with the excuse that he was afraid he might lose it. The two were rewarded and the third was cast out. Jesus was not teaching about the importance of handling money here, he was telling a story that they would have instantly related to. Two men valued the money while the third saw it as a inconvenience.
Jesus was like the oil that was overlooked by the foolish and held to by the wise. Jesus was like the money that had been treasured by some and feared by another. It's real simple when you don't dissect it and look for all kinds of principles to learn from it. The disciples would not have been trying to over- spiritualize these stories like we do. They probably found themselves thinking, How could you forget to take something as important as oil with you? and Why would someone bury the money instead of making a profit?
When did they connect the obvious? Was it right away or was it after the Spirit opened their eyes? I imagine that they would have sensed something right away that they just couldn't put into words. But later, they would describe Jesus as the stone that the builders rejected that became the very cornerstone of the building of God!!
Now, we have the story of the sheep and the goats.
Is this story supposed to be establishing a piece of a time-line so that we can go find all the other pieces and try to fit them together into one seamless chronology? I used to think so. It not only created numerous contradictions, it also created contentions with those who had different viewpoints. But mostly, I missed the obvious because I was looking for something that wasn't there!
When does "the Son of Man come in his glory"? Are we to assume that he doesn't come in his glory until some future time? When was Jesus glorified? Didn't Jesus say ...
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified John 12:23
... shortly before his crucifixion? Didn't he also repeat that claim just after Judas went out to betray him?
Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in Himself, and will glorify him immediately! John 13:31-32
Jesus was glorified in the very place that all mankind despises: the condemnation of death! The death of a condemned sinner.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 3:8-11
Set your mind at ease for there is no other judgment that God holds to other than Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.
Jesus spoke of this as something future because AT THE TIME it was future for Jesus had not yet been glorified.
The nations are now gathered before him for he is the one and only distinction between people!
What is this separation based on? Birth ... nature. Sheep and goats traveled together and shepherds had to separate them for different reasons at different times. Jesus speaks of himself as a shepherd who divides the nations by whether one is a sheep or a goat.
The thing that was said to the sheep was the same thing that was said to the goats except for one crucial distinction: the sheep did give food and drink and clothes to Jesus while the goats did not. ALL the sheep are said to have done this, while ALL the goats are said NOT to have done this.
Is it suggested that the doing of these things caused the sheep to be sheep, or is it suggested that NOT doing these things caused the goats to be goats? No. They were not separated by deeds but by nature. Very important.
But there's something more obvious here. THE REACTIONS.
The sheep hear the pronouncement and are surprised, saying, "When did we ever do such a thing for YOU?"
The goats hear it and are offended by his denial of their assistance, and they said, "When DIDN'T we do this for you?"
Remember what led up to all this? Remember the encounters with the self-righteous religious leaders? I'm sure it was still fresh on the minds of these disciples as they had been listening to what Jesus was telling them. I'm sure they were still taken back by the hatred of those who had made such wonderful claims of righteousness.
Jesus' words to them were not for informations' sake, for the disciples would soon be standing face to face with these religious men ... and the reality of the nature of the goats would hit them hard. All the warnings were about the pretenders who would try to deceive them.
They would also need to be prepared to recognize the sheep who would claim no righteousness of their own. Why? Because the tendency is to listen to claims instead of to reality.
That is why we have come to wrongly judge who the sheep are based on verbal professions. For when we listen with the ears of the Spirit, which we have been given, then we hear the voice of the sheep as they are taken by surprise when we speak of the work of Christ in them. We also begin to suspect that many professions of faith may be nothing more than false claims of a spirituality that is easily offended when it is not given enough attention.
The difference is simple:
Goats are those whose nature is found in the fallen Adam, though they claim to not be too far gone. They are under the false belief that they can and do produce righteousness and are quick to make it known in whatever way they can. When they perform their deeds they want their due credit. They don't want their true nature and/or deeds revealed for what they are, but instead they want their deeds to appear righteous.
Sheep are those who are born of God, and will readily admit to having come from the fallen Adam. Christ is their life. They are not aware of the work of God in them for the most part and instead become more and more aware of the fact that they cannot produce righteousness ... and often say so. Christ is their boast, not themselves.
Until next time .....
the shovel (aka Jim)