The Sheep vs. The Legalists
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Mt 25:32-33).
We often read this scripture as separating professing Christians (“believers”) from everyone else; insiders from outsiders; sinners from saints. Jesus’ hearers probably heard it as Jews vs. Gentiles, but Jesus explained otherwise:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Jesus actually identified with the outsiders! I was hungry, I was poor, I was alone, I was naked and sick. “But Lord,” we so often ask, “What spiritual principle did they violate that they are hungry, poor and sick? Surely, it’s because of their own sin, no?” Yet, the sheep are not noted for asking these questions or posing conditions at all, but for responding with kindness.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me’ (see Mt 25: 32-45).
Why did those symbolized by “goats” do nothing to help? Did they prefer to justify the curse rather than the cursed? This is me whenever I retort, “You got yourself here. Now you’re suffering the consequences,” and walk away praying, “Oh Lord, convict them of sin. Show them how wretched they’ve been.” The goat doesn’t see the log in his own eye, but essentially says, “Thank God I’m forgiven and saved by grace, but she should be afflicted. She earned it!”
Looks to me like this is really about separating the merciful from the judgmental, those under sovereign grace from those who stubbornly refuse to die to that ol’ crucified, score-keeping accuser. Thankfully, Christ came to proclaim the Good News: God is no longer keeping score.
For God has shut up all in disobedience
[apeitheian: unbelief] so that He may show mercy to all (Rom 11:32).
For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas 2:13 ESV).
I believe Papa sometimes allows affliction because He allows us to learn from our own choices, but the scriptures bear clear witness that punishment is never His heart’s desire, nor His first attempt to grab our attention. He’s made His grace permanently available to all of mankind (Titus 2:11) to avoid that very thing. Yet, where there is truly a consequence for sin, there is a need not primarily for punishment, but for faith to replace self-effort. And that is something we all have experienced.
Thank God that
mercy triumphs over judgment. To desire punishment for myself or anyone else is to be utterly out of step with God who delights in the well-being of His servant (Ps 35:27
) and to show mercy (Micah 7:18
). Yet, He says,
“As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”
And though being left to an affliction may gentle the heart to receive grace and kindness, it is the kindness and grace, not the affliction, that carry the power of transformation:
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness…not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Rom 2:3-4 NIV).
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Mt 5:8).
When you see the hungry, the poor, the wretched, do you see God? Staring at sin is easy enough. It requires no faith. The “goats” are goats not because they haven’t met Jesus, but because they refuse to see and love Jesus in the afflicted who “ought” to know better.
As sheep, we are foolishness to the world because we’re led by simple faith (trust) in the Shepherd, who saw His Father hidden behind the foolish behaviors of a prostitute. I agree that God wants to heal our conscious choices in cooperation with physical healing. But as for what to feel for the sick “sinner”: that He loved us so much that He died for us and raised us up while we were dead in our sins is quite enough.
Remember Job’s friends? They spent some 35ish chapters telling Job all about God, which God eventually trashed, as in Job 42:7:
I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary puts it squarely:
“Job’s friends had wronged God, by making prosperity a mark of the true church, and affliction a certain proof of God’s wrath.”
Let us not grow weary in well doing. Forgive and love the repeat offender, but I especially bless you to dwell in the shelter of His unconditional grace. Then, when you see someone “suffering the consequences of their actions,” don’t be a goat, and under His influence I promise you won’t! In His intoxicating glory-goodness, you’ll give them a cup of cool water and remember their sins no more (Heb 8:12, 10:17, Jer 31:34).
Do you agree? Speak ya’ mind in the comments box!
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