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Hungry, Thirsty, Lost, Naked, and Sick.

The sheep and goats at the end of the world.

Written by David Steltz on .

Notes

Introduction

We’re going to finish up chapter 25 of Matthew today! And this is going to be the end of the final “discourse” or major section of teaching from Jesus in Matthew.

In this part-parable, part-prophecy, Jesus paints a vivid picture using the symbolism of sheep and goats. Through this imagery, He reveals the eternal consequences of how we treat the "least of these" in our midst. He invites us to reflect on our attitudes, choices, and priorities in a way that compels us to examine the depths of our faith and discipleship.

While he’s continuing the theme of the end times and judgment, this passage concludes with a very practical and applicable message.

Today, let us open our hearts to the timeless wisdom contained within the words of Christ. May we be inspired, challenged, and moved to action as we seek to live out the values of the Kingdom of God in our daily lives. Together, let us discover what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, who calls us to extend love, mercy, and compassion to all.

Let us now journey into our reading and allow the Spirit of God to speak to us, transforming our hearts and equipping us to be agents of His Kingdom in our world today.

Passage

He says that when he returns, he will separate all people into two groups: the sheep and the goats. The sheep will be those who have shown mercy to the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. The goats will be those who have not shown mercy to these people. It’s a powerful reminder that our actions in this life do have eternal implications. When we show mercy to others, we are also showing mercy to Jesus. And when we do not show mercy, we are also not showing mercy to Jesus. It’s a statement of what will happen…a statement of truth, but it’s also a call to respond to that truth; a call to action. Specifically, It challenges us to be compassionate and merciful towards our fellow humans. It reminds us that we are all called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Let’s read, together:

Matthew 25:31–26:2 LSB
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne 32 “And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and 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 of My Father, inherit the kingdom, which has been 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 invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been 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 did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 1 Now it happened that when Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered over for crucifixion.”

This passage is often cited to highlight the importance of compassionate action and the call to care for the vulnerable in society. It underscores the idea that genuine faith and righteousness are expressed through love and service to others. The passage challenges believers to examine their actions and reminds them that their treatment of others reflects their relationship with God. Overall, it offers profound insights into the nature of God's judgment and the significance of living a life marked by compassion and care for others.

Son of Man

The term "Son of Man" is a significant title that Jesus often used to refer to himself throughout the Gospels, including this one. We’ve brought this up many times, but this is a perfect example of where Jesus is using a term that highlights his identity and membership with humanity while also showcasing him in a role that is entirely beyond and above human, as divine arbiter and judge.

Remember, the phrase "Son of Man" has its roots in the Old Testament, specifically in the book of Daniel. In Daniel 7:13-14, there is a prophetic vision where the prophet Daniel sees "one like a son of man" coming with the clouds of heaven and being presented before the "Ancient of Days" (God). In this vision, the "son of man" is given authority, dominion, and an everlasting kingdom.

So, while it is a humble and human-sounding title, it actually points to his divinity, authority, and Messianic role. By using this title, Jesus emphasizes his unique identity as both fully human and fully divine, the Son of God.

In the context of our passage, Jesus referring to himself as the Son of Man highlights his role as the ultimate judge. He describes a scene where the Son of Man, representing himself, comes in his glory, accompanied by angels, and sits on his glorious throne to judge all nations. This imagery underscores the divine authority and sovereignty of Jesus, who will determine the eternal destiny of every individual based on their actions and treatment of others.

By using the title "Son of Man," Jesus not only affirms his divine identity but also connects himself with the messianic prophecies found in the Old Testament, specifically in the book of Daniel. It serves as a reminder that he is the fulfillment of those prophecies and holds the ultimate authority in judging humanity.

Overall, Jesus' use of the title "Son of Man" in this passage highlights his unique role as the divine judge, emphasizing his authority, divinity, and connection to the Messianic promises of the Old Testament.

The Nations

Notice, now, who it is that gathers before the throne of Christ.

Who is gathered? What phrase does he use?

“All the nations.”

What does that mean?

The term "nations" can be interpreted in a couple of ways. It could refer to actual nations, suggesting that groups of people, societies, or countries will be judged collectively based on their actions, especially about how they treat the "least of these" (the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned).

Alternatively, "nations" could be symbolic, representing all people collectively. The original Greek word used in this passage is "ethne," which can be translated as "nations," "peoples," or "gentiles." In this context, it may simply refer to the totality of humanity, indicating that everyone will be judged, regardless of their nationality or group.

In either case, while nations or groups are mentioned, the criteria for judgment are based on individual actions - feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, looking after the sick, and visiting the prisoner. However, for us individualist Americans, I think it’s also healthy to consider the concept of collective judgment and how that highlights the shared responsibility we have as societies to work together to care for the less fortunate among us.

After all, hunger and poverty are, generally speaking, social issues that require social cooperation to solve.

That doesn’t mean there is no individual responsibility! To the contrary, everyone will be held responsible for their own actions:


2 Corinthians 5:10 LSB
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Sheep & Goats

Whether collectively or individually, Jesus is describing a process of separation: those he places on his right and those on his left, and he compares them as sheep and goats.

The imagery of sheep and goats used here serves a symbolic purpose to convey different characteristics and behaviors of individuals in the context of the parable.

Sheep and goats (and, in turn, their stewards) were very common in the Middle East during Jesus' time. They always have been, so we see them used pretty frequently as symbols in the Bible. Sheep were often seen as symbols of God's people, while goats were often seen as symbols of the wicked.

It's important to note that the use of sheep and goats as symbols does not imply that sheep are inherently better than goats or that goats are inherently bad. The animals serve as metaphors to convey different behavioral traits and attitudes, emphasizing the importance of compassionate action and its impact on one's relationship with God

Sheep

Sheep are often associated with positive qualities in biblical symbolism. They are seen as gentle, meek, and submissive animals. In the Bible, sheep are frequently used as metaphors for God's people, emphasizing their dependence on the shepherd (God) and their willingness to follow His guidance. Sheep are also known for their flocking behavior, sticking together and finding safety in numbers.

SIDE NOTE: That sheep flock together so unquestionably can be an advantage, giving them strength in numbers! But it can also cause them to be very easily led astray.


Jeremiah 50:6–7 LSB
6 “My people have become lost sheep;

Their shepherds have led them astray.

They have made them turn away on the mountains;

They have gone along from mountain to hill

And have forgotten their resting place.

7 “All who came out against them have devoured them;

And their adversaries have said, ‘We are not guilty,

Inasmuch as they have sinned against Yahweh, who is the abode of righteousness,

Even Yahweh, the hope of their fathers.’

In that context, while it’s good to be unified as a “flock,” it’s also important that we are placing our faith in THE good shepherd, and not following any other distractions or temptations, or particularly charismatic sheep.

In the parable, the sheep represent those who demonstrate compassion, kindness, and selflessness by caring for the needs of others. They are characterized by their acts of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, providing clothing to the naked, showing hospitality to strangers, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison. By aligning themselves with the needs of the vulnerable and marginalized, the sheep exemplify the qualities of obedient followers of Jesus.

Goats

On the other hand, goats have different characteristics.

Anybody here own goats?

I know some people who love goats! One of the things I’ve heard about goats, especially compared to sheep, is about how they have very individual personalities and quirks. Kind of like dogs, and other pets, for better or for worse, they are not quite as easy-going and docile as sheep.

They are often associated with stubbornness, independence, and even a tendency to wander off on their own. In the parable, the goats symbolize those who neglect or disregard the needs of others. They fail to engage in acts of mercy and demonstrate a lack of compassion. Their separation from the sheep represents their separation from the righteous and their failure to align themselves with the teachings of Jesus.

By using these contrasting animal symbols, Jesus vividly illustrates the distinction between those who show compassion and those who do not. The sheep exemplify the righteous, compassionate individuals who align themselves with God's values, while the goats represent those who lack compassion and fail to demonstrate the love and care expected of followers of Jesus.

Both animals were common in the land of Israel and people could easily connect to what Jesus was teaching.

Why Separated?

Oh, so why would the sheep and goats be separated in the first place? Anybody curious?

During the daytime, they usually herded together. It’s not like they don’t get along. But when shepherds brought in their flocks at the end of the day, they typically put the goats in a sheltered area while leaving the sheep in an open-air pen.


Ezekiel 34:17–19 LSB
17 “As for you, My flock, thus says Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats.

18 ‘Is it too slight a thing for you that you should be shepherded in the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures? Or that you should drink of the clear waters, that you must foul the rest with your feet?

19 ‘As for My flock, they must be shepherded on what you tread down with your feet and drink what you foul with your feet!’”

The Metric

What are people judged on? In this particular example, what is it that condemns them?

It’s a sin of omission. It’s to be fully aware of the needs around you, being fully capable of doing something to meet those needs, and yet doing nothing. It’s turning a blind eye to our neighbor’s suffering because we don’t want to be inconvenienced, or for our pleasure and comfort to be diminished at all by taking on someone else’s problems.

Whether that is literally feeding and clothing people, a very real need even right here in our community, but even more so around the world, or even just being there for someone and being willing to listen and care. Sometimes a compassionate ear is just as effective as compassionate hands or more so, and in either case it simply requires a compassionate heart willing to meet people wherever they are, with whatever they need.

Exactly like Jesus did.

He compares the judgment process here to separating the sheep from the goats. But he also told a parable, one of his most well-known parables, found in Luke 10, which showcases the contrast between those who ignore and even despise someone in need, versus the one who shows compassion.

A lawyer asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus asked him what the law says, to which the lawyer responded, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus agreed with his answer but the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asked, "Who is my neighbor?"

In response, Jesus told the story of a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him, beat him, and left him half dead by the road. By chance, a priest was going down the same road, but when he saw the injured man, he passed by on the other side. Likewise, a Levite came to the place, saw the man but also passed by on the other side.

Then a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon the man, and when he saw him, he felt compassion. He went to him, bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put the man on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he gave two denarii (a form of currency) to the innkeeper and asked him to take care of the man. He promised to reimburse any additional expenses upon his return.

After telling the story, Jesus asked the lawyer, "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?" The lawyer responded, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Jesus told him to go and do likewise.

The parable underscores the idea of showing kindness and love towards all people, even those outside one's immediate social or ethnic group (represented in the story by the Samaritan, who belonged to a group often in conflict with the Jews). The term "Good Samaritan" has since come into common use to refer to someone who helps a stranger.

The Judgment

In this passage specifically, the judgment may come across as being works-based. However, the metrics he to which he refers are simply the most obvious outward, visible symptoms, or indicators, of one’s true relationship with God. Jesus has said multiple times that the whole of Scripture comes down to loving God and loving others…loving our neighbor as ourselves, which is anyone in our lives, and helping to provide for their needs in any ways that we can.

Application

Selflessness & Mercy

We can walk away from this teaching from Jesus knowing that our actions in this life have eternal consequences, and that God cares deeply about how we treat each other!

The King, Jesus, will judge people based on their reception and treatment of the least of his brothers and sisters.


Matthew 12:50 LSB
50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

He has shown us grace and mercy beyond what we can even comprehend, and wants to see us reflect even a small amount of that. To take what we have been given, and grow it, not to make ourselves great and powerful, but to share it selflessly with others.

Humble and compassionate treatment of Jesus’s followers necessarily accompanies acceptance of the gospel that they proclaim


Matthew 10:40–42 LSB
40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.

41 “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.

42 “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

Mercy

Mercy is not something that we can earn or deserve. It is something that is freely given. As we have freely received it from the Father, so we must give it to others. And in turn, when we show mercy to others, we are reflecting the mercy that God has shown to us.

This passage challenges us to be more compassionate and merciful in our dealings with others. It reminds us that we are all called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

YBH

Let’s get listy!

Let’s take a minute to get REALLY practical! What are some ways that visible compassion: mercy in action, what does that look like for us, today?

Here are just a handful of ideas, some ways in which having a perspective like Jesus might impact our day-to-day lives:

Volunteer Your Time: Volunteering at local community centers, food banks, shelters, or hospitals can make a big difference. Find a cause you're passionate about and offer your time and skills.

Donate: If you have the financial means, consider donating to charities, non-profits, and other organizations that are doing important work in your community or around the world.

Be Kind and Respectful: Treat everyone with kindness and respect, regardless of their background, identity, or circumstances. Small acts of kindness can have a significant impact.

Promote Inclusion: Stand against discrimination and promote inclusivity in your personal and professional life. Encourage diverse voices and perspectives.

Educate Yourself and Others: Learn about the challenges and injustices that different individuals and communities face. Use your knowledge to educate others and advocate for change.

Practice Empathy: Try to understand the experiences and feelings of others. This can help you respond more compassionately to their needs.

Support Sustainable Practices: Support businesses and practices that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible.

Vote and Advocate for Compassionate Policies: Participate in your local and national political process. Vote for leaders who prioritize the welfare of all people, and advocate for policies that promote social justice and equality.

Listen and Validate: People often just want to be heard. Listen to others' experiences, validate their feelings, and offer support when you can.

Mindful Communication: Before speaking or acting, consider how your words and actions may affect others. Strive for open, respectful, and honest communication.

Conclusion

3 Truths

Our actions in this life have eternal consequences. When we show mercy to others, we are also showing mercy to Jesus. And when we do not show mercy to others, we are also not showing mercy to Jesus.

We are all called to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means that we are called to be compassionate and merciful to all people, regardless of their race, religion, or social status.

Jesus is the one who will judge humanity. He is the one who will decide who will be saved and who will be condemned.

3 Responses

In light of these truths, we are encouraged to live lives of compassion, recognizing the presence of Christ in others, and evaluating our actions in light of eternity. By embracing these principles, we can actively participate in building a more just and compassionate world, reflecting the teachings of Jesus in practical and meaningful ways.

Cultivate a lifestyle of compassion and service: The passage emphasizes the importance of actively caring for the needs of others, especially the vulnerable and marginalized in society. It calls for a proactive engagement with those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick, or imprisoned. The application point here is to cultivate a lifestyle of compassion and service, seeking out opportunities to extend love and assistance to those in need. This can be done through volunteer work, supporting charitable organizations, or simply reaching out to individuals in our communities who require help. By doing so, we reflect the character of Christ and fulfill the call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Recognize the presence of Christ in others: Jesus states that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for Him. This highlights the importance of recognizing the presence of Christ in those we encounter, particularly in those who are suffering or marginalized. The application point is to develop an attitude of seeing and honoring the image of God in all people, treating them with dignity, respect, and compassion. This involves a shift in perspective, where we view our interactions with others as opportunities to serve Christ himself.

Evaluate our lives in light of eternity: The passage concludes with the eternal consequences of our actions. It reminds us that our choices and behaviors matter in the grand scheme of things and that our treatment of others has a lasting impact. The application point here is to regularly evaluate our lives and actions in light of eternity. We should examine how we prioritize our resources, time, and energy, ensuring that we are aligning them with God's values and actively engaging in acts of mercy and compassion. This reflection prompts us to live with a sense of urgency and purpose, understanding that our choices today have eternal significance.

Let us take heed to these words of Jesus that, in some ways, conclude and summarize his earthly ministry! From here, Matthew will shift into the narrative of his betrayal and arrest, his trial and execution, then his resurrection and ascension. It gets a little crazy from here on, so this feels like a significant milestone to reach the end of what I would call his “preaching” ministry.

The words that Jesus leaves us with, for this week anyway, underscore the deep spiritual importance of compassionate action toward those most in need in our society. It emphasizes that every act of kindness, whether it is feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, or visiting the imprisoned, is an act done unto Christ himself. Therefore, as followers of Christ, we are called to serve others with love and compassion, understanding that such service is a fundamental aspect of our spiritual journey.


Hungry, Thirsty, Lost, Naked, and Sick.