THE GOOD NEWS: The sheep and the goats
Jesus speaks of judgment day. Already, these words bring to mind fire and destruction, but Jesus goes on to explain the process like separating sheep from goats. That’s scary! It opens up the question, “Am I a sheep or a goat?” And Christ even describes the saints and the sinners.
The saints are the ones that fed him, gave him drink, clothed him, and cared for him. The saints were the ones that did good. And the goats are the ones that did only wrong.
Paul’s statement “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” seems to answer our question. We have each failed to feed, give drink to, clothe, and care for Christ. We have each failed to do that which God has commanded. Am I a sheep or a goat?
If being a sheep or a goat is reliant on the workings of my hand, the words of my mouth, the thoughts of my head, and the content of my human heart, then I must be a goat. By my sin I deserve to be a goat and be condemned. Yet, this isn’t the case.
On the farm, how is a sheep a sheep? A sheep is born a sheep and must stay a sheep. It isn’t transformed by its behavior or acts, but rather because it is a sheep, it behaves and acts as a sheep must.
What’s this have to do with us? Our human eyes like to read through these verses and look at the righteous deeds listed (feeding, giving drink, clothing, etc.) as meritorious. That is to say, that because we do these things, we are sheep. Or because we don't do these things, we’re goats. That’s not the way to look at it! We can tell because even the sheep, the saints, have no knowledge of doing these things, just the same as the goats. Yet, Christ says they did them.
We must recognize the works as evidential. That is to say that it is because we are sheep that we must do these things. Often, we don’t even recognize the deeds that we do in faith because it is not our doing, but that in faith, Christ works in us.
Christ came to be our Shepherd and our Savior. He bore the Law and worked
righteousness. Jesus fed the hungry, gave living water to the thirsty, cured the sick, and cared for all. He’s the one that accomplishes such great things and he continues to work his righteousness in us today. His death and resurrection have set us free from the condemnation that our works and sin should merit us and have earned us righteousness before God. This righteousness is ours through the gift of faith that easily earns us Christ’s praise for doing that which God prepared for us to do.
And that’s the real comfort in judgment day. God prepared these things for us to do. It was never left up to us! From the foundations of the world, Jesus says, we were elected. We are sheep because we were born sheep through Baptism. We will stay sheep because that’s what God has made us. We accomplish the good works listed because Christ’s good is attributed to us.
What of our sins that we each know that we commit? We’ll notice as Christ speaks of the sheep, not one sin is mentioned. It is as if the sheep are perfect. That’s the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. So complete is the forgiveness earned for us that our sins are REMOVED as far as the east is from the west. They are gone! We have the assurance that on Judgement Day, we shall stand before our Lord and be judged without fault on the merit of Christ’s death and resurrection.
We are sheep and we shall always be sheep. We shall dwell in God’s heavenly pastures in peace forever. We will hear our King say to us, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. And we shall.
The Rev. Logan Landes is assistant pastor at Grace Lutheran Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.