The Proof of Your Love
Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 25:31-46
This morning we will conclude our journey through the Olivet Discourse. We began by wading through some pretty heavy material about the end times. I hope that we stretched your understanding of the end times and that you were challenged to live today in light of what is to come.
After all, this was Jesus’ intent, because he spends the remainder of the discourse challenging us about how Christ’s future return should shape our lives today. In particular, our future inheritance should encourage us to live for eternity, not for temporal gain. But our future day of accountability should also cause serious reflection about whether or not we are in Christ and if our day of judgment will be a day of joy or grief.
Today, we will look at the final section of the OD, where Jesus gives a final appeal to be ready for our day of accountability (read). Remember that Jesus has been funneling toward more specific applications. In 24:26–25:13 Jesus simply urges us to be ready at any moment, because we don’t know when our time will be up. Then in the Parable of the Talents, Jesus tells us that readiness specifically requires making the most of our God-given ministry stewardship.
Now with the “Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats,” as it’s often called, Jesus focuses on one of the primary criteria that will be used at the judgment. In the process Jesus gives a powerful window into his own care for the church and he gives us a powerful challenge about how we should share his love and express his love. There are 3 sections to this passage, which I’d like to summarize with 3 truths. First…
1. Christ is coming to judge the world (vv. 31–33).
Remember that Jesus is not describing the rapture of the church, which will take place before the Tribulation. Rather, the OD focuses on the 7-year Tribulation, which will take place after the church is raptured. We’ve seen that the world will grow terribly dark, as God pours out his judgment and as Antichrist ravages the world.
But when the world is its darkest, 24:30–31 state, “Then the sign…” Notice that 25:31 also emphasizes the glory of Christ’s return. Christ will come “in His glory,” and he “will sit on the throne of His glory.” Specifically, Christ will establish his throne in Jerusalem, where he will reign throughout the Millennial
Once Jesus sets up his throne, v. 32 says that he will gather all the people who have survived the Tribulation before his throne. As such, we won’t be included in this judgment. Our judgment will take place after the rapture in heaven, so we’ll already be glorified at this point. And the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11–15 will not take place until after the Millennium. So this judgment is just for Tribulation survivors. However, there is plenty we can learn about our own judgment from what Jesus says, because Christ will just all people the same way.
So Christ will gather the Tribulation survivors, and then he will separate them into two groups just as a shepherd separates sheep and goats. This was a familiar picture in Jesus’s day. Sheep and goats commonly grazed together during the day; however, shepherds would separate them at night, because goats don’t have wool coats and they need to huddle together during cool nights to stay warm.
In a similar manner, v. 33 adds that Christ, who perfectly knows every heart, will separate the righteous/sheep from the unrighteous/goats. He will put the sheep on his right hand and the goats on the left. It’s hard for those of us who are left handed to stomach this, but the right hand is commonly considered the place of honor. Oh well!
So again, Jesus emphasizes that the day of accountability is coming. And we must be ready, because in that day there will be no fooling the Lord. He will perfectly separate the sheep and the goats. And then Jesus shifts to the primary concern of this text, which is the criterion for the judgment. This brings us to the 2nd major truth of the text.
II. The righteous will inherit Christ’s kingdom (vv. 34–40).
In v. 34 Jesus offers a powerful invitation to the righteous (v. 34). Notice that Jesus now speaks not as the Son of Man but as the King. I found it interesting that this is the first recorded instance where Jesus calls himself King.
But he still speaks with tender grace to the sheep. I want to emphasize this grace, because this passage is often misunderstood to teach the social gospel. Specifically, many people claim that Jesus is teaching that the gospel is fundamentally about helping the needy and vulnerable and that serving these people is our gospel.
However, the Bible teaches that man’s greatest need is eternal salvation from God’s wrath, and the center of the gospel is free grace through Christ’s substitutionary death. We can’t earn it. And v. 34 affirms that God’s sovereign, free grace is the heart of the gospel.
First, he calls them “blessed of My Father.” It’s not that they blessed God; it’s that God blessed them. Therefore, he invites them to “come” and “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” That’s an incredible statement regarding God’s relationship to the elect. He knew us before the foundation of the world.
And he prepared the kingdom for us before we could do anything to earn it or even before we could chooseIt’s an important reminder that grace alone separates the sheep and the goats. Jesus will go on to bless the righteous for their labor, but we must never forget that God’s blessing is always based in grace. Even our good works are because God’s grace enables us to do them.
In light of this grace, Jesus invites the righteous to inherit his kingdom. How awesome it will be to experience the kingdom of Christ. Jesus will reverse many effects of the curse that have plagued the world for so long, and we will live much as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. So we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” Again, ultimately it’s all of grace, but in vv. 35–36, Jesus proceeds to note one criterion that will be used to separate the sheep.
The Basis of the Inheritance (vv. 35–36): Jesus lists six acts of service, and he will repeat this list four times so it is very important to the text. Jesus wants us to digest it and remember it.
The King begins by saying that the righteous had provided him with food and drink when he was hungry and thirsty. Of course, anyone who lacks food and water is in a desperate situation, so the King says they helped him in a time of great need.
They also invited the King into their homes when he was a stranger with no place to sleep. Throughout the NT, this sort of hospitality toward fellow Christians was an important mark of compassion. Fourth, they clothed the King when he had nothing to wear.
These first four acts of kindness concern man’s most basic necessities. We must have food, drink, shelter, and clothing to survive. The fact that someone would need of such things indicates great weakness and vulnerability. Again, the king is saying that they helped him in a desperate
But the king goes even further. They had visited him when he was sick and in prison. To visit the sick was a risky act of compassion, especially in a day when there was little understanding of contagious disease.
And ancient prisons were awful places where prisoners were treated as basically sub-human. Therefore, prisoners depended on outside help for their survival. But again visiting a prison was risky business because you had to identify with criminals and because of the filth and disease. Therefore, going to such an awful place and caring for prisoners in such conditions was a great act of compassion.
So vv. 35–36 illustrate helping the lowliest of people. There is nothing romantic about it. This is dirty work for those in desperate need who can’t give anything in return. As a result, the Bible consistently holds up this kind of compassion as the heart of godliness and as the definition of selfless love. James 1:27 states, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, andto keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
But why does James emphasize holiness and compassion for the weak? It’s because there’s no selfish reason to care for the destitute. It’s hard work, and normally it’s not fun work. It’s risky and very painful. People with real problems are not always kind and appreciative. And there are no kickbacks, because the destitute have nothing of value to give back.
As a result, the Bible consistently holds up this kind of care as a test of genuine love and of genuine commitment to the Lord. The prophets repeatedly condemn Israel for putting on a religious show while they proved the real darkness of their hearts by neglecting orphans and widows.
Jesus makes similarly judgments. And John even holds it up as a test of salvation. 1 John 3:16–17 state, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down ourlives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
Simply put, Christ loved us when we were unimaginably destitute. So if a professing Christian refuses to extend a similar love to a Christian brother, he has no right to call himself a Christian. That’s strong stuff.
But on the other hand, when we show such unnatural, selfless love, it’s proof that Christ dwells in us. Therefore, Christ says in our text that he will hold up this kind of service as proof that the sheep really are his children.
I do want to emphasize that it will function as proof, not as the basis of salvation. The Scriptures are clear that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. So no one will be in heaven because of their good deeds. But the new life that Christ gives will result in real love.
1 John 4:7–8 say, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” That’s pretty strong. Love is a necessary fruit of true conversion; therefore, Jesus says in our text that one of the main criteria he will use at the judgment is our love. It proves that Christ is in the heart. Returning to our text, notice in vv. 37–39…
The Surprise of the Righteous (vv. 37–39): You can imagine the confusion of the righteous as they listen to the King talk. The King is sitting in front of them in all his glory surrounded by angels, and he is talking about how they served him when he was in these lowliest of conditions. They’re thinking, “Uh, I don’t ever remember seeing you in prison.” They have no recollection of doing any of these things for the King.
Their surprise is significant because it makes their actions all the more sincere. They hadn’t done these things for the King while knowing who he was or in hope of getting something in return. Instead, their actions sprung from genuine love and compassion. In v. 40 the King responds to their confusion with a brief but climactic answer.
The King’s Love (v. 40): In context, the King’s brothers are specifically Jesus’ disciples who have just endured the Tribulation. As a result, these aren’t freeloaders who are just working the system. No, these people have suffered under Antichrist’s heavy hand. He will it difficult to earn food, clothing, and shelter. And he will throw others in prison for their faith and kill still others. They will endure terrible suffering, just as so many Christians around the world do today.
But they are Christ’s brothers! How remarkable is that. If you are a Christian, the Eternal Son of God considers you a brother. You are family. Therefore, Jesus feels every ounce of our pain. As a result, few works warm the heart of our Savior like caring for his family in their time of need.
I think we can all understand. For example, I remember that when James was born, I was a proud daddy. I loved it every time a stranger in the store or a friend at church came up and adored him. To this day, you are automatically on my good side if you love on my kids.
How incredible is it to think that Christ feels the same way toward us? God is moved when we show kindness to his child. He takes note when you speak an encouraging word to a troubled Christian. He rejoices when you forgive a wrong, extend mercy or take time out of your busy schedule to do some house projects for an elderly believer. He sees when you stay in the foxhole with a sister who is warring with addiction or some other deep personal struggle. He gives thanks when you sacrifice a nice date to pay a utility bill or to buy food for someone who just lost his job.
We should stand in awe that Christ loves us so dearly. It’s just remarkable. We should also be encouraged that he sees our every need, he feels our every pain, and he is there even when we are stumbling in the dark.
And finally, we should be challenged to serve our brothers. And I do want to emphasize that Jesus specifically has fellow Christians in mind. There’s always a lot of talk among Christians about the need to feed the poor and fix society’s ills. And those are good things to do.
But Jesus and the apostles were always primarily focused on preaching the gospel and making disciples, not on social justice. And the NT consistently teaches that brothers in the church take priority when it comes to meeting temporal needs. Our primary mission is not to fix Apple Valley; it is to make disciples and care for each other, so we have to give priority to God’s heart.
And then we must remember when we care for each other, it is equivalent to caring for our Lord. When you pay that utility bill, it’s as if you are keeping Christ’s lights on. When you welcome a brother into your home, it’s as if you are bringing Christ into your home. When you walk through a tough valley with a brother in Christ, it’s as if you are holding up Christ’s arms. It matters, and Christ sees and cares. So demonstrate real Christian love by caring well for Christ’s people. The 3rd major truth in this text is…
III. The unrighteous will be condemned to hell (vv. 41–46).
The Condemnation (v. 41): The mood of the text takes a sharp turn in v. 41 as the King shifts his eyes to the goats on his left. He already knows their hearts, so he states, “Depart from me…” This is heavy stuff.
This is one of several places in Matthew where Jesus is very clear that hell is real, that it is a place of fire, and that it is eternal. People have always tried to dismiss at least one of these realities, but Jesus is clear. Those who are condemned at the final judgment will suffer the just wrath of God in hell for all of eternity, because they have offended a holy God. As I’ve said before, if we don’t like that, the problem is not with God; it’s with us. It’s because we don’t grasp how holy God and how offensive our sin really is.
However, it’s important to note that this is not how God designed things to be. Notice that Jesus says hell was prepared “for the devil and his angels,” not for humans. This is intentionally different from 34. Jesus said the kingdom was prepared for the righteous “from the foundation of the world.” But God didn’t elect anyone to hell. It only became necessary when Satan rebelled. And sinners only go there because they reject the Lord. But the vast majority of people do reject the Lord, so they will be condemned to hell.
The Basis for the Judgment (vv. 42–43): The King then proceeds in 42–43 to explain the basis for this judgment. He lists the same six actions he mentioned to the righteous; only this time he is condemning the goats for neglecting these acts of kindness. He doesn’t say that they necessarily acted against the King; rather, they simply failed to serve him when he was in these conditions.
The Surprise of the Wicked (v. 44): Like the righteous, the wicked are also surprised by their judgment (v. 44). They also look up at this glorious King surrounded by angels, and confoundedly they ask when they ever saw the king in one of these six conditions.
The King’s Response (v. 45): The King replies in 45. They neglected the King by neglecting his brothers in their time of need. We see again the love that Jesus has for his disciples. We can all understand. Just as one of the quickest way to our hearts is to show kindness to those we love, the quickest way to fall out of favor is to hurt those we love.
I’ve seen parents ready to charge a basketball court when their child takes a dirty foul. I remember my mom being ready to strangle my 3rd grade classmates when they called me Kitty. And Jesus warns that he notices when the world neglects or hurts his people.
But what’s so incredible about our text is that the goats are not condemned for persecuting the church. They are condemned to hell (not just to a lower position in heaven) for merely neglecting needs, for sitting on their hands or turning a cold shoulder when God’s people are weak and needy. This issue really matters to God.
And this ought to catch our attention, because we live in a highly individualistic and materialistic We never (or so we think) have time or resources to really invest in people. And if people have needs, we are very quick to see how they made their mess but not very quick to help them get out of it. And of course, sometimes people need tough love, but Christ is also clear that he wants us to generous and quick to serve his people.
So Jesus calls us to take a potentially uncomfortable look at our priorities and practices. Do you have a vision for the broken, weak, and poor among God’s people, and do you go after them with love and care?
The message of this text is very simple. We need to love Christ by loving his people. Think about it. When you love and serve a brother, you are loving and serving our Savior. Yes, sometimes it’s going to be costly financially, emotionally, and otherwise. But we cannot be content to lock ourselves away from real needs, when Christ gave everything for us. Instead, we should see it as a great privilege that we have the opportunity to return to our Savior the incredible love that he displayed to us. And furthermore, we can make these sacrifices knowing that Christ’s kingdom awaits us. Someday, we will stand before our Lord, and in the words of v. 34 he will say, “Come…” What a wonderful day that will be!