Be Glad You're a Sheep!
A sermon based on Matthew 25:31-46
Sunday, November 6, 2011– Last Judgment Sunday A
"You're such a sheep," isn't usually a compliment, is it? If you follow what others are doing blindly, just going along with the crowd, you're just a sheep. If you let others take advantage of you, you're fleeced like a sheep. And even the Bible doesn't always speak of sheep in the most kindly ways. "We all like sheep have gone astray." Sheep wander off and get lost and can't find their way back. Sheep are dumb animals—literally in the Greek, "forward moving things." So, I'm guessing you might not take it as a compliment when someone calls you a sheep.
But, the truth is you are a sheep.
But this morning I mean that differently. In this morning's text it's not an insult to be called a sheep. Instead it's a wonderful truth in which you can rejoice. You are a sheep! Though you once were a goat, you've been made a sheep. And in that truth we can be glad and we can live like sheep. Listen to Jesus' words describing the sheep and the goats on Judgment Day…
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation 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 invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit 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 invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' 41 "Then he will say to those on his 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 did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not
look after me.' 44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' 46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
I. You Were A Goat
Many may wish to deny it, but the truth is that Judgment Day is coming—that day on which all people who ever lived will be judged for all eternity. One of our creeds describes that day: "At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their own personal deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire." (The Athanasian Creed)
But does that make you a bit nervous? I mean Jesus called the ones on his right who are blessed by the Father and welcomed into heaven the righteous. The righteous ones who have done good will enter eternal life. But is that you?
Have you always fed the hungry? When was the last time you went down to the local shelter? How much of your income has gone to help the hungry? Have you always been hospitable inviting strangers in? Or do you sometimes double bolt the door, chain it shut, and set the alarm to keep everyone else out of your private sanctuary? Have you clothed the needy? Well, does taking my worn out and outsized stuff that I was tossing anyway over to Goodwill instead of the trash can count as clothing the needy? Have you been eager to care for the sick? Or do you keep your distance just in case they're contagious? Have you visited prisoners? Or are you glad that the scum of the earth are kept out of way where they can't hurt you or inconvenience you?
The truth is, we're far from righteous in our own homes. We don't even show this kind of love to our own family and friends all the time, let alone strangers. We should be viewing everyone that we meet as Jesus in disguise—and in turn be eager to love and serve them. But we don't. We view them as annoyances, as inconveniences, as burdens. And so too often we're uncaring, heartless, cold, and sometimes downright mean toward others. And we forget that what we do to others or don't do for them, we do to Jesus or don't do for him.
And for being anything but righteous, we deserve to have Jesus tell us, "Get away from me!" We deserve to be cursed. We deserve to be cast out of God's presence and into the eternal fires of hell.
But did you notice who hell was prepared for? It was prepared for satan and his angels, not for people. God doesn't want people in hell. In fact, he doesn't want that so much that he acted. And because he acted we won't get the hell we deserve, because we're not goats anymore, but sheep…
II. You Are A Sheep
Pay close attention to the timing of the events on Judgment Day. They're important. Which came first, the evidence? Or the verdict? It was the verdict, right? Before there was any mention of any works, the people were separated. Then, after they were separated, the perfect Judge who knows all things displayed the evidence to make it clear to all that his judgment is right. But the judgment was not based on what people did, but on who they were—either sheep or goat, the righteous or wicked, the blessed or the cursed—then the works were displayed—whether good or evil---to demonstrate the presence or absence of faith.
So which are we? Sheep or goats?
We already saw that on our own we are wicked goats. But how do we become sheep? A dog can't turn into a cat, no matter how hard you try to pull it off, and a goat can't turn into a sheep either, right? It's impossible! Humanly speaking it is impossible for the wicked to become righteous. But all things are possible with God. He turns us into sheep.
How? Through the Good Shepherd. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd… and I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:14-15) And though "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, [and] each of us has turned to his own way… the Lord has laid on him [on Jesus] the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) By taking all our evil deeds on himself and by crediting all his good deeds to us, he has changed us from goats into sheep—from sinful, godless heathen, into sinless, perfect saints.
Now when God looks at you and me and evaluates our personal deeds, all he sees is the good that Jesus did and sees none of the evil we've done. Now you and I are ready for the Last Judgment. Judgment day isn't terrifying to us, but exciting, because we know we'll be on the right. And we're ready to be separated from the world around us. We're ready to receive the inheritance that awaits us! We're ready to enter the kingdom that God has prepared—for us!—since the creation of the world! We're ready because by Jesus work, and through faith in him, we're sheep and not goats! And while we wait for that Last Judgment to come, we can start acting like sheep right now…
III. Act Like A Sheep
It's usually not a complement to be compared with an animal. "Were you born in a barn?" "You eat like a pig!" "You're moving like a snail!" But it is a wonderful thing to be a sheep when you're in Jesus' flock. And in that light, what a compliment to hear someone say, "You're acting like a sheep."!
Act like the sheep that God has made you, dear flock! Just as a sheep knows the voice of its shepherd, so too, know your Good Shepherd's voice! Listen to his voice in the Word, in public and private worship, in your daily devotions. Just as a sheep trusts its shepherd to provide good grass to eat and clean water to drink, trust your Good Shepherd to nourish you with the food and drink of his Body and Blood and to quench your thirsty soul with the living waters of the Word. Just as a sheep follows its shepherd wherever it may go, follow your Good Shepherd, dear sheep. Follow him to the cross. Then follow his example of selfless service to others.
Give some of the blessings that God has showered on you to those who are in need with fewer blessings of their own. Give of your time and give up some comfort and convenience in order to comfort and care for the sick and imprisoned, the lonely and the hurting. Do these things for everyone you encounter who have these needs, but especially for believers—for "the least of these brothers of [Jesus]."
Look for opportunities where you can give your time, your energy, your gifts to those who need them more than you. You can start by looking in your home. Look for ways of serving your family and be a sheep for them. Then look at work. What are the needs of your co-workers? How can you meet them? How about here among the family of believers? How can you be sheep-like to a fellow sheep? What love can you show? What encouragement can give? Finally, look at the goats. How can you meet their needs and introduce them to the Good Shepherd?
And you can give to those in need and care for them and comfort them not in fear of Judgment as if God said, "You'd better toe the line or there's hell to pay!" because you already have a favorable judgment in your Good Shepherd. The verdict has already been declared: You're not guilty! You're not a goat! You're a sheep!
Instead, we act selflessly in thanks to the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. We act in love for others to show our unending gratitude to him who loved us! We act like sheep, following the one who made us his sheep, who gave us his inheritance, who gave us the kingdom. Rejoice, dear friends, "You are such sheep!" Amen.