Ep.178: Sheep and Goats.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In Matthew’s gospel, the last story Jesus told before his betrayal and crucifixion was a story about sheep and goats. 

For this story, Jesus didn’t use one of his standard story introductions, such as “Here’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. . . “ or “A man was travelling to Jerusalem. . .”  Instead, he began it like a prophecy of future events, saying, “When the Son of Man comes in glory, he will sit on his throne and all the nations will gather before him” (Mat. 25:31). 

The story is about judgement day and Jesus is the judge. He separates everyone into one of two groups, sheep or goats. Then he says to the sheep:
    Come, share my kingdom with me.
    For I was hungry and you fed me,
      I was thirsty and you gave me water,
    I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
      I was naked and you clothed me,
    I was sick and you took care of me,
      I was in prison and you visited me (Mat 25:35-36). 

The people in the sheep-group are surprised and say, “When did we ever do that?” And Jesus will reply, “Whatever you did for my brothers and sisters, you did for me.” 

Then Jesus will turn to the goat-group and say, “No reward for you. Depart from me forever. Because when I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, or sick, you didn’t help me.” 

And these people will say, “What? We never saw you in need.” And Jesus will reply, “But you saw my brothers and sisters in need, and didn’t help them.” 

This story raises the question, “Does Jesus teach that we are saved by what we do instead of what we believe?” It’s a good question because in the story, the sheep and goats are judged by their actions, not by what they say they believe.  

When Jesus taught on earth, he never provided a checklist of what we have to believe to be saved. After he rose from the grave and went back to heaven, lots of people over the centuries created lists on Jesus’ behalf. They wanted a clear statement of exactly what to believe. You might be familiar with some of these lists. The earliest ones like the Apostles’ Creed, stick mostly to story. Later ones like some Protestant Reformation statements include complex deductions from scripture, such as substitutionary atonement and justification by faith. 

When Jesus was on earth, his approach to belief was not to give people a list of statements to agree with. Instead, he invited people to trust him, to believe him. The woman who touched his garment, Zaccheus up in the tree, the blind man shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”, Nicodemus pondering about how to be “born again” — they were not signing up for a Bible 101 course about what to believe. They bypassed even the disciples and made  their appeal directly to Jesus, inviting him into the story of their lives.

I think Jesus’ story about sheep and goats affirms the option of a story-based approach to God, instead of a rational approach that says faith must begin with intellectual assent to a list of propositions. Like the people who listened to Jesus’ stories on earth, we too can approach Jesus directly. We can invite him into our story by asking him to help us. We can participate in his story by helping the poor and the hungry and the naked.

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, we say we believe in you, and we have signed onto the best list we can find of Bible-based propositions.

But we are often in the goat-camp, looking for you only in the pages of scripture, and ignoring you in the crowded turmoil of life. Help us find to you in the poor and the hungry and the naked. O Jesus, take these narrow and selfish stories we live, and make them part of your grand story. 


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.