Wow! What a loaded passage in our Gospel reading today; we might feel it is particularly pertinent to our present time when we see and hear of so many acts of kindness to others.
Yet, I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel in many ways inadequate.
In a time of lockdown, it’s really difficult to reach out in so many ways, yet here Christ our King is saying unless we reach out to others we are condemned. So are the ones who are providing food banks, offering nursing care, teaching in our schools, serving in our shops, delivering parcels, keeping order on our streets – the ‘doers’ – the only ones to be saved? And where do faith and belief and forgiveness come into this? We might be forgiven for thinking what is the point of our faith as Christians if we take this passage quite literally and see that all those who have done good deeds will enter heaven and the rest will go to hell – there is nothing about believing in Christ here.
It seems a complete contradiction to what the risen Christ told the disciples in Mark 16: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” Or, John 20: “Come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
But of course, as with all Jesus’ teaching, the message of this passage is much deeper – it’s about choice and the joy of serving Him.
Jesus says there are only 2 types of people – sheep and goats – and these will ultimately be separated by the choices made in this life.
We all make choices – at the beginning of creation humanity was given free will and, of course, we know the penalty Adam and Eve paid and all mankind for their wrong choices. But we were ultimately created to make choices and we make them every day. We choose our meals, our clothes, our friends, our jobs, when to get up and when we go to bed, where to go, what to do, who to be with (although some of these are restricted in the current climate), and just as we are free to make these choices we are also free to choose how to serve God.
In this respect, Jesus compares us to sheep and goats in nature to teach an important lesson about the way He sees people. Sheep are symbols of mildness, simplicity, patience, usefulness and righteousness, whereas goats are naturally quarrelsome, independent, stubborn and self-serving. The point Jesus is making is that he observes the behaviour of each one of us and judges us on the choices we make.
5 simple observations can be made from this passage:
1. How we treat others is important, and will ultimately affect our destiny. We are not saved by good works, but by the grace of God, and because we were created in God’s image and called by God to serve Him, we should be imitating Christ’s actions in the world.
Ephesians 2:8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God – not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared for us to do.”
NOTE: Which God prepared for us to do. What God called us to do. To use the gifts, He has given us. In this time of Covid, we may not be able to get out and about, or even feel we want to go out, but we can look after each other by even just telephoning one person, praying for others, looking beyond ourselves and our own situations and our own self-pity and serving God through serving others.
2. How we treat others reveals our relationship to Jesus. Jesus regarded everyone as His neighbour, He helped anyone in need and He expects us to show compassion for others – whatever our circumstances.
3. How we treat others reveals the condition of our heart. Belief, faith, love and relationship with God through Jesus Christ, being filled with His spirit enables us to serve Him because we are so filled with goodness, kindness, faithfulness and gentleness that showing these qualities to others becomes natural.
4. How we treat others is how we treat Jesus. God designed us to reflect His wonderful nature, & the Bible states that God is love. He is totally unselfish, forever pouring Himself out like the sun, always giving light & warmth. This means we must treat others in the same vain.
5. How we treat others is the way Jesus will treat us.
Today we celebrate Christ as our King. God’s will is to bring all of creation back into glorious harmony with His son, Jesus, That means Jesus will reign as King of Kings – His will, will prevail. His mercy, goodness, and love will regulate and permeate everything on the earth. Kings and rulers look after everyday affairs but the King of Kings will rule the kings of the earth and ensure no legislation will lack His will and righteousness. We look forward to that day when God’s will is done perfectly. But today’s world is not perfect, and neither are we, but we are called to do His will – revealed through the Scriptures – loving others. If we are truly the Body of Christ we will listen to Him, follow Him and serve Him through serving others. We will be true sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:14, 27-28) After Jesus had risen from the dead, He appeared to Peter. There are 2 significant parts of their conversation. Jesus first asks, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”, and secondly “Feed my lambs.” Notice – Jesus doesn’t say “Do you love my lambs”, then “Feed them”, He asked “Do you love me?” Peter’s ministry to the sheep was to be motivated primarily by his love for Christ, not his love for the lambs. When we love Christ more than anything else, we live in relationship with Him and He equips us to do His will.
That is his promise. God never intended us to live alone. Sheep cannot survive alone. Goats can but sheep can’t. Sheep need the constant attention and protection of the shepherd, when they look to the shepherd they are loved, guided by, and cared for by him.
But, they need the company of the flock to grow to maturity as God intends. That is why God created the church, the flock of Jesus Christ. Here he meets our five most deepest needs; a purpose to live for, people to live with, principles to live by, a profession to live out, and power to live on. There is no other place on earth where you can find all five benefits in one place at the same time. Worship helps us focus on God, fellowship helps us face life’s problems, discipleship helps fortify our faith; ministry helps exercise our talents; and evangelism helps fulfil Christ’s mission.
We cannot grow to maturity in splendid isolation. We need each other’s gifts and talents, each other’s service, each other’s fellowship and prayers – even in these strange times. That is why we take seriously the biblical image of the Church as a Body made up of many different parts, each valued and each with unique gifts and talents given by God for the good of the whole. I encourage each one of you to follow the model of the Lord Jesus and serve one another in love. So today you are invited to reflect on your role within his flock, your part in helping to fulfil Christ’s mission – to give back to the Lord in service of others, no matter how small that might be because God’s generous expressions of love confront you everywhere you turn. The question is: Do you see them? Do you see the opportunities all around you to share the love of God with others? Will demonstrate more and more that you are a sheep person and not a goat person?
I leave you with these words from Charles Wesley who wrote 9,000 poems, of which 6,500 were used as hymns. He once said that he would gladly have exchanged them all for the privilege of writing just one hymn that sums up this passage – and Mark will play this during the communion preparation:
“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”