In Matthew 25 Jesus tells three stories about the need to be ready for judgment, although the third looks to be giving us information about what will happen more than it is a story. Contextually, these are connected with his teaching about Jerusalem’s fall from chapter 24. But there are good lessons for us as we live our lives today.
The judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46 is one which probably raised some eyebrows when the disciples heard what Jesus said. From the emphasis we often have – or don’t have – in our lives, perhaps it should raise some eyebrows today, as well!
In this scene of judgment, all nations have assembled before his glorious throne. He then separates the people, as a shepherd would separate sheep from goats. It is the sheep on the right who are blessed by the Father and will inherit the kingdom. The goats on the left are sentenced to eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
If we were the one telling this story, I am sure it would have had some different details. We would probably have those on the right being there because they had been baptized, had been faithful in attendance at worship, and had read our Bible daily – or something like that. I say that because this is what is so often emphasized among Christians. And I’m not saying that these are not important – they are – but in many ways, these are the basics, the foundation, that we need to building our lives on.
Notice why the sheep would inherit the kingdom: they had fed the hungry, they had taken in strangers, they had clothed those who were in need, they took care of the sick, they visited those in prison. Jesus put this in terms that this is what they had done for him. And on the other side the “goats” were lost because they had not done these things.
And don’t you just love the answer of the “sheep”? “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 visit you?” (Matthew 25:38-39 NET). Jesus’ reply: “I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40).
If Jesus were here today, most Christians would be more than willing to do these things to help him. But we often struggle to help those around us. Jesus, in essence, is saying that if we won’t help those around us who are in need, we wouldn’t do it for him, either.
What is the lesson for us? It isn’t that we don’t need to become a Christian, worship with our fellow Christians, or read the Bible – the sheep were on the right-hand because they were Christians and faithfully following God. But to be a faithful follower requires more than occupying a seat on Sundays. What we learn from our Bible study must be seen in our lives. We will learn to have the same compassion Jesus had for people and we will take care of them, helping to meet the needs that we see.
We often struggle with the concept of eternal punishment, although we don’t seem to have any problem with eternal life. Notice that the exact same word is used for eternal fire, eternal punishment, and eternal life. Jesus indicated that they are all of the same duration.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a sheep! So what are we going to do to help those around us?
Readings for next week:
7 August – Matthew 24:1-35
8 August – Matthew 24:36-51
9 August – Matthew 25
10 August – Matthew 26:1-35
11 August – Matthew 26:36-75