31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation 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 took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited 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 take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’ 40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ 41 Then He will also say to those on the 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 didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me.’ 44 “Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’ 45 “Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’ 46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
This parable, the last found in Matthew, brings together a reality that many may find hard to embrace: there will be a judgment coming and everyone will be held accountable in the process. The picture painted is a familiar one of sheep and goats. We, like these familiar farm animals, find ourselves intertwined in life, in journeys, in the decisions we make.
However, inevitably those referred to as sheep and goats will choose differently. The great Shepherd will come and call the sheep to His right and goats to His left. The King will tell those on His right to come and receive their inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for them since creation.
So what is the explanation? Why are they called to receive this gift while others are not? We see the answer in verses 35-36. This is an explanation of the character and heart of the person, not necessarily a list of duties and deeds accomplished like items on a checklist.
Just as the inheritance of those called to the right was the inheritance prepared for them of eternal life with Christ, the opposite will be true of those called to the left, the goats. They will find themselves condemned for eternity.
Many people will look at this passage and pull out the segment found in verses 35-36, “For I was…” They’ll focus on this point to back up a passion they may have when it comes to serving others. The truth is there are several ideas, some with stronger arguments than others about the intent of this illustration.
Some will say it refers to the judgment of the nations’ treatment of Israel. Others will say that it is about the treatment of the poor and disenfranchised. The third view is that it’s the judgment of how people treated the messengers of the gospel of Christ.
We learn from this parable that judgment is real and will come. However, the true heart of a Christ-follower will minister to those who Jesus says are pictures of ministering to Him. These “sheep” were not separated because they had accomplished the perfect checklist, but because their lives represented ministry to others and in doing so ministry to Christ Himself.
Many people will do great things—feed the poor, clothe others, visit those in prison. Many seek a reason to feel significant or find their “purpose,” and they’ll no doubt be impacted. But for the person seeking purpose in these actions, the impact is fruitless.
There’s a different type of service, however, one that can’t be separated from our relationship with Christ. It comes as a result of giving your life away so others may come to know the love of Christ more intimately. What comes from this type of service is life.
The sheep asked, “When did we do these things?” Their purpose wasn’t to do things for the sake of being noticed, but rather because the thought of not doing these things would seem wrong.
When we first come into a relationship with Jesus we aren’t instantly transformed in our thinking. It’s a discipline learned and gained over time and becomes part of the “Christ in us.” When we serve, we become different and so are those we reach in the process. Are you doing something for an outcome or because it comes form the core of who God created you to be? The difference is your motives.
Years ago, I led creative ministry with a camp, working with several teenagers every week as they used their gifts, talents, and abilities to minister to others in and around the city where we were located in. I remember one week a very talented girl was in my group. She had great leadership skills and was ready to take the world by storm.
However, even though she looked like the perfect camper, I noticed something significant was missing. It wasn’t that she was saying incorrect things, but rather that she wasn’t, in all of her giftedness, saying anything at all. It turned out that she wasn’t a Christ-follower at all. In fact, she was quite content with calling herself an atheist. She just wanted to serve others and found that Christians seemed to do that well.
I remember looking and wishing the others there had her same kind of passion. However, my heart broke as I realized how lost she was and how all of these works wouldn’t ultimately get her anywhere. When it came to judgment, this young lady would’ve been gathered with the goats.
Her eternal state didn’t change during that week, but I’ve continued to think about her often and how easy it would’ve been to assume she was in a relationship with Christ because of where she was and what she was doing. Lord, please don’t let us serve others well enough not to care for them beyond the action, but rather to care for their eternity.
How can you choose to love someone well today, especially loving the messengers of Christ and encouraging those in the throes of sharing the Gospel? A few ideas to get the thoughts flowing are listed below. Let them serve as a springboard for other and more original thoughts as you start to explore what God can do through you today.
- Write notes to those community leaders that empty their lives out every day but likely do not have the same contingent of others encouraging them.
- Open your home to missionaries that come through the area with hospitality, a warm meal, or a place to stay.
- Look for a need that a stranger may have each day. This could be persons in various walks of life (a cashier, a person on the street, a fellow student, co-worker, etc.). Without drawing attention to yourself, help provide for that need. This could be anything from providing a meal to giving a scholarship. The point is not about being noticed but rather to model Christ by serving these people.