Surprises at the Judgment

Matthew 25:31-46

I used to think "Judgment" was only a concept for unbelievers. However, Jesus taught that the Judgment would hold surprises for believers, too.

The sheep in the parable are just as confused as the goats.

The charity that counts at the Judgment is charity from the heart expressed by natural acts performed all along the way of life.

Jesus described charity of heart in the Beatitudes.

The King will remember everything, even the little acts that you’ve forgotten.

Surprise! Surprise! The Judgment may not be what you expect. There will be a lot of surprises at the Judgment.

Matthew 25: 31-46 is a passage of Scripture that looks forward to that day in which men and women will be judged.

I used to think Judgment was only a concept for unbelievers.

Having grown up attending Church and Sunday School regularly, and having heard many sermons and teachings from these verses of Scripture, at some point along the way I figured out that the passage wasn’t really referring to farm animals. It was referring to people, and the Christians, the good guys, would be called sheep, and the non-Christians would be called goats. This sermon is based on one from a seminary professor that I read not long ago.

Why this word picture of sheep and goats? Living on a farm in Minnesota as a child, we had various farm animals. My experience is that sheep are basically really stupid. They have to be guided along each step of the way. You have to show them where to graze, where to drink, where to lie down. You have to look after them constantly. And then there are goats: goats are just plain stubborn, self-willed animals, always doing their own thing.

The Bible says this is the Judgment of the nations. I tried to picture in my mind how it will be. I could imagine Jesus and some angels coming out on the balcony. Everybody would come to attention, and one of the angels would say, "This is the Judgment of the sheep and goats. All of you who are sheep go over to the King’s right, your left. All of you goats over to the King’s left, your right."

As they start to move, the angel would say to some, "You fellows are goats. You’re over to the King’s left."

They’d say, "What do you mean we’re goats?"

"Well, the King was hungry, and you didn’t give Him anything to eat. He was thirsty; you didn’t give Him anything to drink. He was a stranger; you didn’t take Him in. He needed clothes; you didn’t give Him any clothes. He was sick; you didn’t take care of Him. He was in prison; you didn’t go to visit Him."

They would say, "You’ve got to be kidding. We never saw Him. We didn’t have a chance."

The angel would explain that in everyday life there were those who needed food . . . water . . . clothes . . . and you did nothing. I can imagine someone saying, "Wait a minute. You don’t know our neighborhood. You don’t take in strangers. Man, next thing you know they could mug you. You don’t hang around with sick people. You could catch their disease."

More surprises. Jesus taught that the Judgment would hold surprises for believers, too.

Not only do the goats ask the question, "How come we’re goats?" the sheep ask questions, too. The sheep ask, "When did we see You hungry and feed You, and thirsty and give You something to drink, and a stranger and take You in, give You clothes when You were naked, take care of You when You were sick, visit You in prison?"

The sheep are as confused as the goats. It seems that the basis of that Judgment is going to depend on little unknown, unremembered acts of kindness and love. Acts we hardly think about, but the King sees them.

Let me tell you what this is not saying. This passage is not saying if you take some change and put it into the box for charity at the checkout counter that by the time the coins hit the bottom you’re sure of going to heaven. It’s not saying if you put some money in the Salvation Army kettle or if you contribute to somebody’s Thanksgiving dinner, that demonstrates you belong to Christ.

When the King addresses these that are called sheep, He says, "Come, you who are blessed of My Father, and inherit the Kingdom that was prepared for you before the creation of the world." That phrase, "blessed of My Father," is not a throwaway line. Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew in the passage of Scripture called the Sermon on the Mount, that sermon begins by saying, "Blessed are those who are bankrupt in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God."

Blessed are the women, the men, who sense a desperate need for "something" and have no idea or means in the world how to meet the need — their need for God.

The sermon continues, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Mourn about what? Mourn about their brokenness, their bankrupt spirit.

It goes on to say, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." The term "meek" suggests submission to God, bowing before Him.

The next beatitude says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Righteousness is not something in a box up in heaven. When the Bible talks about righteousness, it is always talking about right relationships — right relationships with God, right relationships with other people — those who have a brokenness of spirit, who mourn for that brokenness, then begin to crave a relationship with God. That craving is filled as they first bow before God, then reach out to establish a right relationship with others.

The next beatitude says, "Blessed are the merciful. They will receive mercy." That craving and filling shows itself in God’s mercy.

"Blessed are those who are pure in heart because God has done something wonderful in their innermost being. They will see God."

"Blessed are the peacemakers because they will show that they are children of God."

Matthew 25 says that those who belong to this King, who have allowed Him to do a work deep in their hearts and lives, are characterized by little unremembered acts of kindness and love that flow from their inner nature – which has been touched by God – as naturally as wool comes from the back of a sheep.

The King will remember even the little acts that you’ve forgotten.

When we come to that last Judgment, there are going to be all kinds of surprises. There are going to be folks there who are absolutely certain that they are sheep. They’re ready to saunter over to the King’s right-hand side, and He will stop them. And they’ll say, "Of course we qualify. We have prophesied in Your name. We’ve done miracles in Your name. We climbed to the top of the ecclesiastical ladder." And the King will say, "You are goats in sheep’s clothing. I never knew you."

And then there will be other people who have been broken by their sinfulness, ashamed of things in their lives, who will wonder if there’s even the tiniest chance that they’ll get into that Kingdom. They will conclude that the only possibility is for them to rely on the grace and the favor and the mercy and the kindness of God in providing some way for them to enter. But they’ll look at themselves and wonder if they’re going to make it in. And they will make it, in brokenness of spirit, throwing themselves on God’s grace and mercy.

When you come to that Judgment, it will not matter that you’ve got a degree from a college or university or seminary, it will not matter what kind of fame you have acquired or that folks applaud you. What will matter is whether, in the depths of your life, you have allowed God’s Spirit to work, and whether there have come from your inner life acts of kindness and love that perhaps you didn’t think much about at all, but, in fact, have been ministry to the King.

Yes, there are going to be a lot of surprises at that Judgment, a lot of surprises.

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