Just over 4 years ago, the members of Calvary Baptist Church called me to become their pastor. My family and I accepted the invitation, and we moved to Seymour to begin our ministry. Since that time, God has greatly blessed and increased our church. We have seen His handiwork all around us evidenced in a myriad of different ways. The Lord has been actively at work among us, and it has been a true joy to see Him moving in our midst.
When I took over as pastor, we adopted a vision statement for our church. This statement was not of our own making, but rather we determined it was God’s vision for Calvary Baptist Church. Like others’ vision statements, it seeks to define our purpose as a congregation. By staying true to our vision, we are better able to determine what is truly important and what isn’t. It serves as a guide for decision-making, programming, and so forth. Everything we choose to do, or not to do, is considered beforehand in light our our vision. Will it contribute in some way to achieving our purpose or will it detract from doing so?
The vision statement for Calvary Baptist Church comes from a passage of scripture found in Matthew 25:31-46. Our statement is “Loving the least of these in Jesus’ name”. These words describe a congregation that is intentionally and sacrificially serving the least desirable people of the community - those that most others overlook. It speaks of service that purposefully and unashamedly proclaims and glorifies the name of Jesus. It is not just doing good for the sake of doing good, but rather doing good in order to share the love of Jesus with others.
As your leader, under the headship of Christ of course, I feel that it is imperative from time to time for us to revisit and review our vision statement. Such reminders help us reorient and realign ourselves with God’s calling. They can reenergize us as we are reminded again of our church’s purpose. Scripture says that “without a vision the people perish”. Thus, if we wish to remain vibrant, relevant, and effective in our community, county, and beyond we must become visionaries. We must know and embrace our vision to “love the least of these in Jesus’ name”.
I. THE SETTING OF THE JUDGMENT
Matthew 25:31-46 describes an event known as “The Sheep & Goats Judgment”. It is also sometimes called “The Judgment of the Nations”. It speaks of a judgment that will occur during the last days, when the Son of Man comes again in His glory. This is plainly stated in the introduction of the passage.
There are numerous and differing interpretations of end times prophecy, even among Southern Baptists. These differences are generally respected and accepted within our denomination. History even reveals that over time, the predominant viewpoint of our denomination regarding the last days has shifted. Ultimately, we believe that the precise details of the end times are not foundational to our Christian faith. Though we may debate the particulars, all Southern Baptists generally agree that someday Jesus will come again personally and visibly to the earth, the dead will be raised, and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. These 3 common tenets can be referred to as the return, the resurrection, and the reckoning.
While I acknowledge and appreciate the various end times perspectives of others, this morning I am going to share my own thoughts as it applies to the setting of this passage. I believe that Scripture clearly teaches that the coming of Christ will take place in two distinct steps. Jesus will first appear in the clouds during an event called the Rapture and will snatch away His church from the earth. This will be followed by a 7-year period of judgment on the earth called the Tribulation, during which Jesus and the church will be in Heaven. At the end of the Tribulation, Jesus will come again to the earth to stay, bringing with the saints and the angels with Him. He will establish His kingdom here, and reign over the earth for 1,000 years during the Millennium.
Using this timeline as the basis, I along with many other like-minded scholars, believe that “The Sheep & Goats Judgment” will take place after the Tribulation, immediately before the Lord’s Millennial reign begins. The details in these verses seem to support such a notion. When He comes again to set up His kingdom, Jesus will separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Those who He determines to be righteous will remain on the earth to experience life during the Millennium. However, those who are determined unrighteous will be immediately cast into Hades where they will await final judgment following the Millennium.
II. THE BASIS OF THE JUDGMENT
The purpose of this judgment is the separate the righteous from the unrighteous, just as a shepherd might separate sheep from goats. Thus, it is obvious that there will be both righteous and unrighteous people among the nations that will be judged at this time. This is not just a judgment of the righteous only, like the Bema Seat Judgment (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10). Nor is it a judgment of the unrighteous only, like the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). Instead, it is a judgment of all people living on the earth. Thus, we must consider an important question. Upon what basis will Jesus determine whether someone is righteous or not?
If you read the passage in isolation, it would appear that Jesus’ judgment is based primarily on the person’s works. If a person has helped those who were in need, showed compassion to those who were hurting, and reached out to the broken and downtrodden then Jesus will declare them to be righteous. If they have neglected to do so, He will deem them to be unrighteous. Thus, a person’s good works or lack thereof of seems to be the determining factor. This rendering, however, is an over-simplified and incomplete understanding of the passage.
The whole of Scripture teaches that righteousness is determined by faith, not by works. There is absolutely nothing that sinful man can do to earn or achieve righteousness. It is wholly a gift from God and can only be attained through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness, or right standing with God, can never be acquired through any number of good works. It is for this reason that Jesus came to die on the cross. Thus, the thought that Jesus would separate the righteous from the unrighteous based upon their deeds is preposterous. So then, how should we understand Jesus’ actions in this passage?
The answer is found is the inseparable relationship between faith and works. The Bible clearly teaches that faith without works is dead. It further states that believers are saved in order to do good works. It declares that a tree is known by its fruit. In other words, good works are the visible evidence of a saving faith. They are a natural consequence of true faith. People who have genuinely accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior by faith will do good works. The works don’t save them, but rather indicate that they have been saved.
While the emphasis of “The Sheep & Goats Judgment” is placed upon works, it is clear that these works are simply an expression of an individual's faith. Thus, the righteous are those people who have placed their faith in Christ as shown by their willingness to love the least of these. The unrighteous are those people who have not placed their faith in Christ and have therefore failed to show His love to the least of these. This is, therefore, not a works-based judgment as some have erroneously suggested, but rather a faith-based judgment which is made evident by the works that have been done.
III. THE ATTITUDES OF THE JUDGED
Most of this portion of Scripture consists of a conversation between Jesus, the divine Judge, and the people who He has placed on either His right or His left. This dialogue reveals a stark contrast between the 2 groups. They demonstrate totally different attitudes regarding the Lord’s judgment.
The attitude of the righteous is characterized by inadequacy. Notice the questions that they ask. When did we do these things for you Lord? When did we feed you, clothe you, and visit you? What have we done that makes us worthy to be considered righteous? Why would someone as lowly as us deserve such salvation? Those who the Lord declares to be righteous understand that they are pitiful and unacceptable to God apart from Christ. They embrace their own weaknesses and imperfections. They are humble, contrite, and thankful.
On the contrary, the attitude of the unrighteous is just the opposite. They believe themselves to be fully adequate and deserving of the Lord’s favor. They seem shocked that Jesus has judged them negatively. When did we not meet your needs Lord? When have we not served you? When have we failed to act in a worthy or righteous manner? What did we not do that rendered us disqualified? The unrighteous believe themselves to be holy and acceptable to God on their own right and apart from Christ, but are sorely mistaken. They are prideful, self-righteous, and ungrateful.
This passage shows that the righteous will not only do good works, but will do them with the proper attitude. This sentiment is echoed elsewhere in Scripture. The apostle Paul explains that even if a person gives everything he has to help the poor but has not love, he gains nothing. The lesson is quite apparent. Good works are meaningless unless they are inspired by a proper motivation which is accompanied by a right attitude.
A final lesson we take from these verses is that the greatest way to show our love for Jesus is to show His love to others. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love the LORD with all our hearts, minds, and strength. This is of first importance. We best do this by loving our neighbors in Jesus’ name. The love that we shower upon other people in Christ’s name is somehow applied to Him as well. “Inasmuch as you did it to them, even to the least of these, you did it also to me.” Do you want to show Jesus how much you love Him? Then love others. Isn’t this exactly what the Lord told Peter? “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
And so, Calvary Baptist Church, may our faith in Christ blossom into visible and tangible actions. May we strive to reach the lost, broken, and rejected. May we feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned. May we serve the needy, pursue the wayward, and stand up for the defenseless. May we forgive the sins of those who’ve hurt us, love our enemies, and receive the outcasts. May we do so without becoming weary in well-doing. May we act with a humble spirit that recognizes our own wretchedness before a holy God. May we find our strength and purpose for each new day in Him alone. May we always remember and remain committed to our vision statement - “To love the least of these in Jesus’ name.”