It’s been a few years since we’ve grazed our sheep in the Morne Mountains.
But with dry weather early last year, the decision was made to send a batch of ewes to the trails for the summer to ease the pressure on grazing at home.
After several months, the time has come for the sheep to return to the farm. Unfortunately, our trusty sheepdog Max had broken his leg, so this job required a lot more running than I expected. On our first muster, we managed to round up all but 10 of the ewes, who were loaded onto the trailer and moved safely closer to home. The second roundup located three more ewes grazing with another flock. They separated quickly and joined the rest of the herd.
However, our subsequent meetings proved much less fruitful. From a distance, they looked identical to ours, and they had the same blue mark on their shoulder, but these sheep belonged to someone else and were not ours.
These days of searching on the mountain reminded me of another gathering that will take place in the future, once Jesus returns. Jesus himself describes the scene as follows: “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 the peoples from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left” (Matthew 25:31-33).
You might think that separating sheep and goats should be an obvious task, but if you’ve ever visited countries in Africa or the Middle East, you’ll know they’re nearly identical. Both have droopy ears, and sheep are covered in hair, like goats, rather than wool. On closer inspection, there is one distinguishing characteristic that separates sheep from goats – a goat’s tail is normally raised, while a sheep’s tail points downward.
When it comes to the great gathering at the second coming of Jesus, everyone will be present and accounted for and no one will be missed, as the Good Shepherd begins to separate His flock.
As he does, it may not be obvious why one person should be sent to the right and another to the left. This is because Jesus will not judge our appearance, our attendance at church, or how much we have given to charity. The hallmark of His ‘sheep’ will be a heart that is righteous – one that has recognized the problem of sin, and in faith has accepted the gift of salvation offered by Jesus, which cleanses us from our sin.
To the righteous, He will say: “…Come, blessed ones of my Father, inherit the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” (v34). But for those who are not part of his flock, the result will unfortunately be very different – an eternal separation from God “…“Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” ( v41).
At the start of this new year, how wonderful it would be if you would join the flock of Jesus in asking Him to be your Saviour. Then, if he returns in 2022, you too can look forward to this great gathering in peace and joy.
Ronald Annett works for a local feed company and helps out on the family farm in the shadow of the Morne Mountains. He is a member of Morne Presbyterian Church in Kilkeel, County Down.
If you would like to speak to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Reverend Kenny Hanna, ICP Rural Chaplain at [email protected] or call him on 07938 488 372.