The great gathering
It has been a few years since we last grazed our sheep on the Mourne Mountains.
But with the dry weather early last year, the decision was taken to send a batch of ewes to the slopes for the summer to help ease pressure on the grazing at home.
After several months, the time came for the ewes to return to the farm. Unfortunately, our trusted sheepdog Max had broken his leg, so this job required a lot more running than I was expecting. At our first gathering, we managed to round up all but 10 of the ewes, which were loaded onto the trailer and safely moved closer to home. The second gathering located a further three ewes grazing along with another flock. These were separated quickly and rejoined the rest of the flock.
However, our subsequent gatherings proved to be much less successful. From a distance, they looked identical to our own, and they bore the same blue mark on their shoulder, but these sheep belonged to someone else and were not ours.
Those days of searching the mountain reminded me of another gathering that will take place in the future, once Jesus returns. Jesus Himself describes the scene like this, “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. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25: 31-33).
You might think that separating sheep and goats should be an obvious task, but if you have ever visited countries in Africa, or the Middle East, you will know that they look almost identical. Both are lop-eared and the sheep are covered in hair, like the goats, rather than wool. On closer inspection there is one distinguishing feature that separates the sheep from the goats – a goat’s tail is normally raised, whereas a sheep’s tail points downwards.
When it comes to the great gathering at Jesus’ second coming, everyone will be present and accounted for and no one will be missing, as the Good Shepherd begins to separate out His flock.
As He does, it may not be obvious why one person should be sent to the right, and another to the left. That is because Jesus will not be judging our appearance, our church attendance, or how much we gave to charity. The distinguishing feature of His ‘sheep’ will be a heart that is righteous – one that has acknowledged the problem of sin, and in faith accepted the gift of salvation offered by Jesus, that cleanses us from our sin.
To the righteous He will say, “…‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’” (v34). But to those outside of His flock, sadly the outcome will be very different indeed - eternal separation from God “…‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v41).
At the beginning of this New Year, how wonderful it would be if you were to join Jesus’ flock by asking Him to be your Saviour. Then, if He returns in 2022, you too can look forward to that great gathering with peace and joy.
Ronald Annett works for a local animal feed company and helps out on the family farm in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains. He is a member of Mourne Presbyterian Church in Kilkeel, County Down.
If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Rev Kenny Hanna, PCI’s Rural Chaplain at rur[email protected] or call him on 07938 488 372.