Scripture states that “where there is no vision, the people perish”. Vision is a clear, mental picture of how things can and must be. It is not the same thing as a purpose, goal, or mission. A vision is an image, not a written objective. People who have a vision actually see themselves in relation to it. They look at their present lives and circumstances and compare them with those they visualize, making decisions that will lead them closer to the realization of the vision.
In order to be communicated verbally, a vision must first be reduced into a written statement known as “vision statement”. These are then used by leaders to exhort and encourage followers. Nations, organizations, teams, groups, and even individuals that don’t have or share a vision often wander aimlessly through life with little real sense of direction. By having a keen mental sense of what success is supposed to look like, we can more aptly gauge our current progress and make the necessary course corrections that will steer us toward it.
When God called my family to Seymour, and specifically to be pastor here at Calvary Baptist Church, He opened my eyes to a vision for our church. I have shared this with all you in the past, though since that time we have added some new members. And I will continue to share it periodically in the future, that I might continually unify our congregation around it and evaluate our progress toward achieving it. As the leader of this body I feel it absolutely critical to present the vision of our church often, that it might constantly be on the forefront of our hearts and minds.
To this end, we will spend some time this morning in consideration of our vision statement “loving the least of these in Jesus name”. What do these words mean to us? What does the realization of this statement look like? How can this vision propel us forward to becoming all that God desires us to become? How will fidelity to this vision keep us from perishing?
I. SEPARATING THE SHEEP FROM THE GOATS (Matthew 25:31-33)
Following a full day of teaching in the temple, Jesus and His disciples retired to the Mount of Olives for an evening of relaxation and rest . Now just a few days from His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus seized the opportunity to speak to those closest to Him about future events and the end times. In this passage, the Lord is specifically talking about His second coming - His return to the earth. This is not dealing with the rapture of the church, but rather with His coming as King to reign and rule over all the earth. Many believe, including myself, that this will take place at the conclusion of the Great Tribulation.
At His coming, the enthroned Jesus will gather all nations before Him. No one shall be exempt from this great assembly. He will then separate the sheep from the goats, with the expert precision and wisdom of the Good Shepherd. While it may be difficult at times for us to know the difference between them, before Christ the identity of each will be made known, and no goat will be miscategorized as a sheep or vice versa. The sheep will be placed to the Lord’s right, a position associated with God’s favor throughout the Bible, and the goats will be placed on the left.
This separation is not the judgment. Rather, it precedes the judgments that will follow later. At this point, the inspection is simply to categorize the sheep and goats into two distinct groups. Up until this time, they have been allowed to mingle together as one. Following this division both the sheep and the goats will be judged separately from one another, in two distinct judgments that take place at differing times.
II. THE REWARDING OF THE SHEEP (Matthew 25:34-40)
Following the separation of the sheep from the goats, the sheep will inherit the kingdom which has been prepared for them. While Southern Baptists are not dogmatic on specific end times prophecy and there is certainly room for other perspectives, I believe this to be a direct reference to the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ. In other words, all of the sheep will be present and living during the Millenium as citizens of the Lord’s Kingdom. So who exactly are these sheep?
The sheep are identified by Jesus as those “who are blessed of My Father”. This can be interpreted to refer to those who have received God’s blessing - a reference to salvation through Jesus Christ. Thus, we can deduce that the sheep are all of those who have been born-again, forgiven of their sin, and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. While Old Testament saints may have never literally accepted Christ during their earthly lives, their faith in God was accounted as righteousness and their sin debt paid by Jesus nonetheless. Thus, all who have truly placed their faith in the Savior will become recipients of the millennial kingdom, starting with those from the time of creation and going all the way through the tribulation. Yet there is still a judgment to be made - one commonly known in Christianity as the “Bema Seat” judgment.
Having been identified and bestowed an inheritance on the basis of their faith, these sheep are now rewarded on the basis of their works. The works provide tangible evidence that the love of God indwells them. Jesus states that by feeding the hungry, by providing drink for the thirsty, by welcoming the stranger, by clothing the naked, by visiting the sick, and by coming to the prisoner, the sheep had in actuality be ministering to Christ himself. When we demonstrate the love of Jesus to one another through our actions, even to the “least of these”, it is as if we are providing for the Lord directly. Therefore, we will be judged and rewarded to the extent (or degree) by which we share the love of Jesus Christ with others. These rewards will be granted to us for use during the Millenium.
Notice that the sheep did not boast in their good deeds. As a matter of fact, they seemed almost unaware that they had even done them. Their attitude shows a level of humility that must be pointed out. It was not the sheep standing before Christ listing all of their good works in hopes of impressing Him or earning His approval. On the contrary, it is the Judge who is pointing out the good deeds to His unsuspecting but grateful audience. The actions listed in this passage are merely a sampling of the many ways which we can show the love of Jesus to others.
III. THE CONDEMNATION OF THE GOATS (Matthew 25:41-46)
Again, the Southern Baptist denomination does not take a strict stance on the exact details of the last days. There are many different viewpoints held by the members of our churches. I believe that the judgment mentioned in these verses takes place after the Millennial reign of our King Jesus. If so, there is a thousand-year gap between the judgment of the sheep and the judgment of the goats. We have already identified the sheep, so who then are the goats?
Jesus describes the goats as “accursed ones”. To be accursed is the exact opposite of being blessed. Thus, the goats must be understood as antithetical to the sheep. In other words, the goats are the unsaved - those who have never received salvation through Jesus Christ. This would include all non-believers past, present, and future. During the Millenium, the goats who had been moved to “the left” are actually being held in hell along with all other non-believers who had died previously, where they all await this final judgment.
Following the Millenium, all of those who have rejected Christ by refusing to accept His pardon for their sins will be judged - again on the basis of their works. This judgment is known in Christianity as “The Great White Throne” judgment and is described in Revelation 20:11-15 in even greater detail. Immediately following this judgment all non-believers are cast into the lake of fire, a place of eternal torment and condemnation.
It is important to point out that any good deed that might be done by a non-believer is automatically disqualified because it is absent of the love of Christ. In other words, a non-Christian might be a tremendously generous and moral person yet, apart from salvation, their good deeds for others are never applied to Jesus himself. Also notice in these verses that the goats, unlike the sheep, are quick to defend their actions and challenge the Judge to prove their guilt. Their lack of humility and denial of guilt is problematic.
In the final phrase of this discourse, Jesus states that the righteous - which would include all of the sheep - now receive eternal life. This is different than the inheritance they’d received previously during the Millenium. Following the judgment and banishment of the goats, the righteous now officially begin eternal life in the New Heavens and the New Earth as described in Revelation 21-22. This is the eternal life that God promises to all who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
As we have discovered, this passage of Scripture is focused upon the separation and judgments of the sheep and the goats. But what does it have to do with our church’s vision and how can we apply it to ourselves?
God challenges us to live in a worthy manner. He urges us to be strong and courageous, that we might be victorious over the enemy. He exhorts us to run our race of in such a way that we might actually win. The message is clear - we are expected to be more than simply participants in this life; we are expected to give our very best. Put another way, we should all aspire daily to earn the rewards that Christ offers. And these awards are conferred upon the basis His love being channeled through us to others.
When I close my eyes, I can see the members of Calvary Baptist Church doing just this. I can see Juanita feeding the hungry. I can see Bernice giving water to the thirsty. I picture Stasha inviting a stranger in, and Faye giving clothes to someone who has none. I see Robert comforting the sick, and Katie visiting the prisoners. I can see us all loving the least of these in Jesus’ name, just as the Lord desires.
In the end, we were all created to love God and to share His love with one another. Our success as a church is not to be measured by the number of people we have in attendance, or the amount of money in our bank account, or the size and grandeur of our facilities - these are all lesser in importance. Our purpose is to make this vision our reality every day and in every way.
So close your eyes for a moment and catch a glimpse of the vision for yourself… isn’t it amazing? Now open them up again. Together, let us strive to put this dream into action!