We have arrived at the end of Christ’s public ministry in the book of Matthew. Matthew’s gospel was written in the last half of the first century with an emphasis on the fulfillment of Christ as the Messiah.
This passage of scripture opens with the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy from the book of Daniel, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, and then he will sit on the throne of his glory.”
Christ is in the last week of his life. He has spoken parable after parable of what it will be like upon his return and the work, we as Christians should be about until his return to this world. Christ gives fair and ample warning about what will happen come Judgment Day.
Today’s scripture is titled, ‘The Last Judgment.’ “All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.”
All nations means just that – all Jews, Gentiles, everyone from everywhere. Separating the sheep from the goats was a common practice for shepherds in biblical times.
Having mixed herds was common, at night sheep would be placed in an open pasture, while the goats needed to be protected from the cold. Sheep have more commercial value than goats do.
The bible oftentimes makes reference to the vocation of being a shepherd. God’s people are often times referred to as sheep, whether we like it or not. Have you ever wondered why………
Given the context and setting – 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, being a shepherd and tending to livestock was a common occupation – people could identify with it.
Sheep need protection, guidance and provision. It is also believed that sheep respond to the voice of their shepherd.
We share these things in common. We are also in need of guidance, provision and protection and if we take the time to listen we will also recognize the voice of our shepherd, of the one that provides, protects and guides.
A shepherd had to be willing to lay down his or her life for who and what they were protecting. Christ, our shepherd, was willing to and did the same when he laid down his life for us.
On that Day of Judgment, when the Son of Man returns in all his glory, the herd will be separated, like the parables of the past two weeks – the wise and foolish bridesmaids and the servants who were charged with investing their owner’s estate.
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 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 gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Our God is omnipotent and omnipresent. He has unlimited power, he knows everything and is always present. Everywhere all the time, to everyone. The God we serve is a God for everyone.
Our God champions the poor, the marginalized and disenfranchised. Our God is a god of the poor, downtrodden and forgotten. A god of the hungry, thirsty, sick, lame and the incarcerated.
A God of the homeless, those in care facilities, nursing homes, the homebound and all those that can’t do for themselves. We do not need to look any further than Christ’s life and who he spent time with during his ministry.
He spent time with those that needed him most. He eased their suffering through his own acts of mercy. He gave sight to the blind, provided living water and broke the shackles of sin that enslave us.
After they have been separated the righteous answered, “Lord when was it that we say you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When was it that we say you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
When was it that we say you sick or in prison and visited you? The righteous seemed to be surprised and unsure how to answer God’s question. We don’t remember seeing you or we would have surely given you food, drink, clothing and visited you.
I am reminded of Mother Teresa’s life and example. Taking care of the dying, cleaning their wounds, teaching young children by writing the letters of the alphabet in the dirt with a stick.
She said that each person she interacted with was Jesus in a distressing disguise. Each person, every human being bears the image of the Creator and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
The king answered the righteous, “Truly, I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” When you treated one of the least of these well, someone that could do nothing for you, you did it for the very God that we serve.
Then, Christ will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. The accursed when into panic mode, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, thirsty, as a stranger, naked or imprisoned and did not take care of you?”
Pleading their case they are. If we only would have known we would have stepped up to the plate. If we hadn’t fallen in love with everything that the world has to offer we would have taken care of you.
If they had only not fallen into temptation, if they could have only gotten past themselves, if they would have only taken to know our God and his heart the accursed may have had a different outcome.
The challenge of being a Christian in a world of commercialism, advertising and temptation. The challenge of living a spiritual life in a body of flesh and blood.
It can be very difficult. I think it would be hard, almost impossible to know the heart of our God without spending time with him, without reading his word or spending time with others that believe in him.
This chapter from scripture, the 25th chapter of Matthew gives another window into the heart of our God.
There is no mention in today’s scripture of church affiliation, tradition, attendance or giving. It is about how we treat others. It is about having compassion and spending time with those that are suffering. It is about living merciful lives and easy the burden of others.
This scripture speaks to the heart of a God of compassion, a god of mercy, it speaks to a god of love. May we always be about God’s work.
Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC
Author of Incomplete