In sports (and other spheres, it seems), exceptional participants are sometimes referred to as “the GOAT”. As you probably know (but I’ll spell out for an international audience, not all of whom are saturated with American culture!), this isn’t a tin can-munching animal, but rather someone considered to be the “Greatest of All Time”. This term ca be used a little loosely, where it seems like there’s a new “GOAT” every week, but it serves a purpose.
While aspiring athletes might aspire to that level of success, wanting someone to call them the “GOAT” someday, the reality is that there can only be one GOAT in any particular discipline. Still, even if your odds of becoming the GOAT are probably billions to one, the fame heaped upon these individuals makes it attractive to some (if you can also handle all of the intrusions into your life that come with it, I guess).
Starting in Matthew 24, Jesus offers a lot of teaching to His disciples, from a place called the Mount of Olives. This continues into Matthew 25, including a section for us to study over the next several articles. Let’s start in verse 31.
“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 NIV
Note that this verse doesn’t say “if” Jesus returns in His glory. This is a certainty, whether we look forward to it in hope, or (for those who haven’t accepted Jesus) fear it. Also, note that this is not a “regional” judgment. All nations will be present.
So, the goats here are actual animals (serving as a metaphor, of course), being divided up from other animals, just like a normal shepherd in Jesus’ time would do at the end of each day. As we can learn by reading ahead in this chapter (which you’re welcome to do: Matthew 25:31-46), being a “goat” here is nothing like being the “GOAT” at a sport, and while some might want to be the latter, we do not want to be the goats that Jesus describes here. More on that in the next few articles…
I imagine the livestock coming in from the fields and passing by the shepherd, who is using a staff to nudge each animal to one side or another. In my mind, here, the animals are obediently going where the shepherd wants them to. If any one of them resists, the shepherd still has the ability to pick them up and bodily move them into the proper location, so it doesn’t make much sense to fight the shepherd when you’re a small- to medium-sized animal.
While we might think that we’re pretty smart and important, I think that it is significant that people are so often described as “sheep”. We are not the Good Shepherd. Our role is to go where we are led, and do what the shepherd wants. Even pastors and elders, who have a “shepherding” role in the church, only serve under the direction of the greatest shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Over the next few articles, let’s take a look at some behaviors that differentiated the sheep and the goats, here. In the meantime, though, let’s set aside goals of being a “GOAT” for our own fame and glory, and consider the one person – Jesus Christ – was truly the Greatest of All Time. Instead of being goats, may each of us strive to be the greatest follower of Jesus Christ that we can be, no matter where that takes us (or rather, where God leads us). Who would have thought that working diligently to become a sheep would be so valuable?
From Sunday School lesson prepared for December 18, 2022
- The Lookout, December 18, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Matthew, by Larry Chouinard, pages 443-447. © 1997 College Press Publishing Co.