Thinking about goats and sheep, a memory came to me. I’m crouched down in a farm yard taking a photo of a frolicking goat. Another goat’s close to me, but I’m concentrating so hard on my picture that I don’t realize that the second goat’s trying to eat the buttons off my jacket sleeve until my friend, Sue, mentions it. Of course, it’s after she’s taken a photo of me and munching goat.
Goats, they’re predictable in their unpredictability.
Jesus talks about goats in Matthew 25:31-46.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 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." (Matthew 25:31-33)
Jesus came to earth the first time emptied out, a humble servant cradled in a manger. But he’s coming back the second time as a judge, “in his glory” and “he will sit on his glorious throne.” He’s the Good Shepherd, but he’s also the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He’ll separate all people into two categories. His sheep who know him and the goats, who are not his sheep.
Sheep and goats are similar, but they aren’t exactly alike. Jesus knows his sheep. No one can fool him. Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14? They both go to the temple and pray very different prayers. The Pharisee brags about himself. He’s his own best promoter. In fact, he doesn’t need the Lord at all. He just needs others to hear how great he is.
But the tax collector humbly admits that he’s a sinner and pleads for mercy.
In verse 14 Jesus talks about the tax collector, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The Pharisee doesn’t even know he’s a goat.
“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.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)
The sheep’s salvation isn’t based on works. Their salvation, their inheritance, was prepared for them “since the creation of the world.” Long before they did any good works. Good works are the effect of salvation, not the cause.
When we surrender our lives to Jesus, we are changed. We have a desire to follow him and to live a life that pleases him. Good works are not our ploy to get into heaven, but the fruit of a life growing in the love of Jesus. They reflect our relationship with the Good Shepherd, who tells us to “love our neighbor” as ourselves.” (Mark 12:31)
The opposite is also true.
“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.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-46)
Goats can be kind and charitable, but their hearts aren’t right with God. Their good works are not done to honor and worship the Lord. They don’t have a real relationship with Jesus. They may do things in his name. They may even dress like sheep. But they don’t know him. They are not heirs to the Kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21-27).
Goats will not go to Heaven. It’s as simple as that. Are you a sheep or a goat? Ask the Lord to make you a sheep in his pasture before it’s too late. And watch out for button-chewing goats.
Kathy Yoder is a devotional writer. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.