Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

Last Sunday of the Church Year-A, November 26, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Http://www.orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” [Matthew 25:31-33]

In the time of Jesus, it wasn’t uncommon for shepherds to allow the goats and sheep to graze or pasture together. But at the end of the day, the shepherd would separate them according to their kind. And that is a picture of the Day of the Lord, judgment day. Some will be considered sheep; they are the apple of our Lord’s eye. On judgment day they will hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But others, others who are goats, will hear something completely different; they will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

So what is it that determines whether we are sheep or goats? Is it something we can get our hands on and protect; something we can have as our most cherished possession. Is there a ticket to heaven? Well… yes and no! If we were to look at our gospel lesson this morning, we might be tempted to think that our ticket to heaven or our identity as a sheep or goat is based on good works, or something we do to earn God’s love and forgiveness. But you’re all much to informed about what your Bibles say to believe that. So what then; what is this blessed assurance that promises us that we will be citizens of heaven in a place that has been prepared and waiting for us since the foundation of the world? Well, it is nothing less than faith… faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the Son of Man comes in His glory, will He find faith; will He find faith in you? Are you a sheep or a goat?

If this question is making you a bit uncomfortable, then may I be the first to say congratulations; congratulations for not being happy at the prospect of being a goat!

You see there’s one thing I know about goats and it’s this, they’re just fine with being a goat. In fact, for the most part they’re stronger, faster, and more clever than sheep. They don’t have a problem with being a goat. But not so with you; you want to be a sheep; you want to know that there is a place for you in heaven, just waiting for you to move in. And because this is true, then you won’t have a problem with admitting something about yourself and something about God.

You are faithless! That’s right, I said it; on your own you are completely powerless and useless for assuring that your eternal abode will be something other than weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now don’t feel too bad about this, because you see it’s something you were born into! St. Paul in our epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) explains it like this, he says that death came by a man, the first man Adam to be exact. In Adam all of us are guaranteed nothing more than an eternal death; a separation from God and His kingdom. Instead of inheriting a mansion, well we’re cast out into the outer darkness; a place where there will be eternal longing and desire.

What was it that Adam did that was so bad that it condemned all of his ancestors? He doubted God’s goodness and love; He doubted that God would provide everything that was good and withhold nothing helpful, while He protected him from everything that was harmful. So from the doubt of Adam and Eve has proceeded every sin that each of us has committed. From the doubt of Adam each of us has been judged guilty. From the doubt of Adam our relationship with God has been lost. The church has always called this doubt the original sin.

Now most goats don’t like this doctrine. They don’t like the fact that they’re being punished for something someone else did long ago! They get angry with God and they say, “I didn’t ask to be born this way! This isn’t fair; since my birth, you’ve put me on a road that goes only to hell!” Yes, the goats are so upset with this idea of original sin that not only do they protest against God, but they get angry with anyone who will repeat the doctrine. Why is that? Simply put, if this doctrine is true, then that means that their salvation, their ability to inherit the Father’s Kingdom is entirely outside of their control. It means they have to have faith, and remember, that is the one thing goats do not have; goats are faithless.

So what is the solution?

Well, goats must be saved by someone who can give them faith. They must be saved by someone who is faithful. They must be saved by someone who can fill them with this faith; someone who can make them faith-filled!

Jesus is that someone and His Word is the means that God uses to fill goats with His gift of faith; it’s how he turns goats into sheep. But faith in what? Faith to believe that Jesus, God’s own Son came to this earth, lived a perfect life for you, suffered and died for you in order to remove the curse of sin, Adam’s and your sin from you. Now, if you are agreeing with this premise, that’s all well and good, but some goats believe this too. No, I’m afraid that you must hear the rest of the premise before you celebrate. You see, Jesus also rose from the dead in His body, and promises that you will do the very same thing because you’ve received His gift of faith.

Now this is where many of the learned people discover that they aren’t sheep at all and they don’t care. They can receive the idea that sin has to be paid for, even original sin. And the fact that God paid for it Himself, makes perfect sense to them, because well, He was the One who allowed everything to break-down in the first place. But raising a body from the dead, a body that’s been dead and decomposed for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, well that’s just foolishness to them. What about people blown into thousands of little bits in explosions during war or a tragic accident, how in the name of science, will they be raised?! Or what about people who die at sea and are eaten by a million little fish who then scatter what’s left of their bodies all over the ocean floor?! No, I’m afraid that to the goats this is just too big of a leap of faith! They believe in Jesus, a spiritual Jesus; a Jesus who inhabits the best of man’s philosophies and religions, but not a physical Jesus. They believe in a spiritual resurrection but they can never accept a physical one! That goes against everything that is sensible to them. It goes against the very laws of physics!

But if this is how you feel, then you are condemning God’s entire Word as fantasy. You have recreated God’s plan into a plan of your own making. You do this because you are a goat; you are a goat because you are faithless. But if the goats are right and we sheep are wrong, then we are to be pitied ahead of all others; because that means we sheep have staked our very lives and eternity on a lie! Poor sheep; poor lost sheep, who will save us! Jesus Christ the true shepherd will! He will smash the head of the king of the goats, the devil himself and speak words of faith that turn goats into sheep! Listen: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by (the God) man (Jesus Christ) has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all died, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in His own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:20-23] Those who are called sheep!

This is the gospel! This is your hope!

By His death upon the cross and the empty tomb on Easter morning Jesus has declared and demonstrated His victory over your enemies, sin, death, and the devil. When you hear that Jesus suffered and died for you, you are given faith… you are filled with faith to believe that He also rose from the dead for you! And you also know by faith, that as the head of the church, which is His body, which you are a part of, you must follow your Lord and Savior; for where the head goes so must also follow His body!

This is the truth, God’s own truth. It is what sheep believe because they are faith filled by a Savior God who is faithful. It is the truth that goats can never believe in because they are faithless. This is the truth that has sent untold numbers of sheep peacefully into the arms of their Savior at the time of death, and it is the truth that will lead you home as well! But I must warn you, that the devils don’t want you to lie down on your last day with this truth. They look at you as another victim. Another morsel that they can eat. They’ll do everything they can to get you to doubt God’s own truth. If they can get you to live in doubt then I’m afraid that they’ve trapped you again in the same old sin of Adam.

Remember, to them, you are nothing more than a tasty morsel that they plan to devour. You are a sausage sandwich waiting to be gulped down. But if you’ll simply rest in God’s Word and the work He did for you on the cross and in your baptism you will see that Jesus is the one who does the devouring. And He’s not only devoured the devil, but your own sin and death. If you will continue feasting upon the Lord’s Table where He offers you His body and blood, then by faith you will not only be eating and drinking forgiveness for your doubts, but the very gift that makes you a sheep; you will be fed faith!

So at your time of death when the devil goes to bite into you, all he’s going to get is a mouthful of the poison that He gave to you. We might say he only has a mustard and ketchup sandwich to look forward too, because you will not be there; you will be with your Lord, in a new body; a body that will never know sickness and death, sorrow or sin. This is how Jesus, the Son of God, puts all things under God the Father. He does it so that God may be all in all and sin, death, and the devil will be no more, ever again!

But now let me close with the proclamation of a mystery. This process has already begun and it is already completed. All that is left is for you to experience it outside of this world of sin and death. Indeed the day has already come when you can say, “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me (because I behaved as a goat), your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation (and His resurrection is the source of my joy); I will trust and not be afraid. For the Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. With joy (I can draw from my baptismal water) that is the well of your salvation, and give thanks to the Lord. So let us call upon the Lord (who is faithful); let us call upon His name. And let us make known His saving work of the cross and the empty tomb throughout our community, and let us proclaim the exalted name of Jesus! Let us shout and sing for joy because the Lord who has done wondrous things is with us and promising to take us with Him in paradise.” [Isaiah 12:1-6]

May God’s Word continue to make each of us faith-filled sheep, as He continues to be our God, in this life that began with our baptismal death as sinners and in our baptismal resurrection to new life in Jesus Christ. AMEN!

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