WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?
Accounting for Our Deeds: Mt.25:31-46
I am quite sure that you all remember Jonah. He got into the ship, expecting to go to Tarshish (wherever that was). Who would want to go to a place with that kind of name -- Tarshish! If I were advertising a holiday to some place I would have renamed it something like "Tarshish-by-the Sea" or "Sweet Water" or "Pleasant Shores," or even "Majorca"! But who would want to go to Tarshish? Well, Jonah did, and the Lord said: "All right! Let him try!"
"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" (Mt.25:32).
But Jonah, whose ticket and visa entry clearly said "Tarshish", ended up in Nineveh. The place he thought he was headed for and the destination that the Lord had in mind for him were two different worlds. And aren't we surprised!
And I'm sure you've heard of Abraham packing his belongings, his livestock, and his family for a long journey to unknown endings? And what do you think Sarah thought when her husband said, "You are going too."
"But where, my dear husband, rich and noble?"
"Don't know, beloved wife..."
"Don't know??" said she.
"No," replied he. "Let's go!"
Well, brethren and sisters, that is just the sort of situation that faces us today. In a few weeks time we are packing all our belongings and heading off into the unknown. Two of our families have sold their houses, one is packed up, and the other is nearly packed up. And another is ready to sell and move at short notice.
"But you don't know where you're going?!"
"Oh yes we do, but we don't know exactly where yet, but we know the Lord will lead us there, just as He did Abraham, and Moses, and Joshua, because He has told us to sell home and back our bags for Zion."
Well, there are three families in this Church who are ready to move out. We don't know where we're going only that we've been told to move. I am writing to you today to ask you a similar question as we have asked ourselves: Where are you headed? You may say where you think you are headed, but you can never say more than that. The apostle James said:
"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you don't even know what will happen tomorrow! What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that'" (Jas.4:13-15, NIV).
So where are we, as New Covenant Christians, headed? Where God wills us to go. There, and absolutely no other place. But what if we aren't listening, or not obeying His commandments? Nowhere. We will stay exactly where we are unless the Lord wills some calamity or other event to bring us to our senses.
For ten years now New Covenant Christians have lived with the dream of Zion. It's in our life blood. For ten years we have waited, sweated, prayed, fasted, and it seemed as though nothing would happen. Do you remember the dream I once related to you of the pastor who was striking a giant rock with a hammer? Nothing seemed to happen. He hit the rock over and over again. He sat down and despaired. Then he heard a voice say, "One more time!" So he got up and hit that rock, and it shattered into a thousand pieces.
Perhaps you will remember the Israelites camped outside Jericho. The men were eager for battle. They could hardly wait after so long a wilderness journey. They grew restless. Instead of being led into the attack, their leader, Joshua, just said: "March around the city and blow your trumpets" and then return to camp. I truly believe alot of those Israelites were fuming inside because it wasn't what they expected.
We had alot of ideas about Kadesh and several expeditions were mounted in search of it. But I never felt happy about that. I felt that the Lord wanted us to lay our faith on the line. If the Lord didn't give a detailed battle plan for the conquest of Canaan in advance, and if He didn't tell Abraham exactly where in Canaan he was to go until he was there, why should He do the same with us? I fretted over that for a long time. I had many a restless night wondering what to do as I had no clear picture in my head as to where we were to go. And then one night in July He awoke me with two sharp thumps. I sat up knowing that something special was about to happen. He didn't waste any words on me, just told me to get ready for something important to happen the next day. And it did.
In the space of a few days our house was sold and the debts we had incurred from the selling of our last home were covered by the last bid we were given. And once the house was sold, all anxiety departed from me, even though the rest of my friends thought I was crazy.
This life is pretty much open-ended. Not alot of details are given us. Just follow Christ and you will be all right. Are you surprised? Maybe, but you'll be all right. But what if He has spoken to you and you have not obeyed, for whatever reason -- fear, insecurity, pride, or whatever -- what then? Then you are in trouble, for if you have truly given your life to Christ, He will not allow you to be a hypocrite. If you claim to follow Christ then you must follow His marching orders. And if we're the independent type, we might not like that. Too bad. It's time to surrender or quit calling yourself a Christian.
Odd though it may seem, the next life has more certainties and less surprises than this one. I thought you'd be surprised to hear that! Isn't it curious that when we talk about the life that is to come, which often seems so puzzling and full of questions, the reality is actually much firmer. It's a more conclusive picture than what we have regarding this life. So why is it much firmer?
In our passage today (Mt.25:31-46), which I hope you have read, Jesus teaches that the Day of Judgement includes measurement, assessment, examination, and accounting. This, friends, is the Word of God, so listen to it well:
These are very difficult words, aren't they? You will remember, I hope, that they are from Jesus Christ who lived and died, and lived again that you might have peace with God -- Jesus who is the lover of your soul, friend beyond all friends for time and eternity, the Last Word always, the "Amen" to everything.
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on the throne in heavenly glory. 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. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit You?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me.' Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels....They also will answer, 'When did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (NIV).
Jesus says: "You must come before Me and look Me square in the eye, and then what will matter is not that you claim, 'I have accepted Jesus', or 'I followed the Holy Spirit', or anything like that. What will count is that I say gladly, 'Come with Me,' or, sadly, 'Be on your way!'"
What will be required of us then is not the forming of a good testimony or a good doctrinal defence of our orthodoxy, but a demonstrable record of what we have done that meets the fundamental stipulations of Christ's mandate to us. Required on the Day of Accountability -- which is really not all that far away -- is presentation of self to say what has been done with and for Jesus in the world, by His power, though our faith.
Everywhere, and particularly in the rich, self-sufficient West, Christians have long been closing their eyes, ears, and heart to the Christ of Matthew 25. They don't like to hear Him saying what He openly declares there. They would rather hear a Gospel about accepting Christ in faith without any sort of real discipleship. Christians are all in favour of the free gift of the Gospel. They like to talk about forgiveness in Christ Jesus and how much God has done for us. They are deeply committed to the free salvation idea and are proud to punch that there are no strings attached. Salvation is by grace, they insist, not works, and therefore, by God, they won't do any works!!
I hope that all true New Covenant Christians, and indeed true Christians everywhere, know that that is a lie, and that if we believe it we are well on the way to undoing the Christian Church in our time. Such lopsidedness is theological trickery that hides from us the Christ of Matthew 25. If we accept the Lord but go merrily on our irresponsible way unmindful of what has been asked of us, then according to the statement of Jesus, we die.
The prayer of Christ when He was heading for the Cross went like this: "I pray that You do don't take them out of the world, but that You keep them in the world. As you have sent Me into the world, I am sending them." Time and time again Jesus validated what He said by the extension of Himself on behalf of others, by arranging people's lives and rearranging the world. And here He was saying: "I'm sending them to do exactly the same thing," not, "Let them be where they are and occupy themselves with their own little worlds." Whatever gave us the idea that we can do less?
James later in the New Testament put the same bite on us with his singular approach to faith: "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (Isn't that exactly what Jesus is saying in Matthew 25?) But someone will say, 'You have faith, I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do" (Jas.2:15-17, NIV).
The other day I was talking with a member of the Patriarchate and I remarked to him: "If we hadn't been given the Indian orphanages to take care of, I doubt very much the Lord would have accepted this work." He agreed with me. Small though our numbers are, I sincerely believe that our taking care, albeit only financially and to a lesser extent administratively, of these orphanages, has been the platform that has justified our evangelical endeavours. I am absolutely convinced of it. It is not as though the Lord is congratulating us for being "kind" -- it is an obligation we have, our stewardship, for accepting His salvation. Had we refused this call, I think we would have been cast off years ago. My real prayer is that we can yet do more for these children and open more orphanages. But it is up to us.
So, are we understanding the larger picture of Christian life or are we too absorbed in our own little theological and ecclestiastical worlds? Where we are headed is to a meeting with a great friend, to the entrance hall of our great Lord and Saviour. Whether we are admitted further, though, is dependent on our obedience to His commandments. And remember, whatever path you have to take to get there, whatever things you must slog through in order to reach that destination, you will be all right! (Surprised, maybe, but you will be all right). At last, we shall get there and there are no surprises about that. Jesus has told us exactly what to expect.
Remember when you were in school? (and some of you still are) and you know that there was a test coming. Maybe you or other students asked the teacher, "What's going to be in the test, sir?" Usually the response was something like, "If I tell you, it won't be a test." I know, I'm a teacher. But usually we tell you, "Well, if you study this and that you will do very well indeed."
Our Great Teacher has told us what to expect, what the question is, in fact: "What did you do for Me after what I have done and given to you? Did you feed me? Did you refresh my thirst? Did you welcome me, clothe and care for me, did you visit with me in difficult circumstances?"
Well, we have a burning desire to establish Kadesh -- Zion -- a community of caring saints who will not only look after one another but also go out into the world and care for others. So what is your answer going to be:
"Lord, we never knew that you needed that from us. We thought You were the giver of all gifts, the author of life, the source of salvation. Lord, please, this is not what we have learned in England, or Norway, or Bulgaria, or the Ukraine, or Zambia, or the United States, or wherever. We thought we were to accept and believe some things, and that's all we had to do!"
And the Lord will shake His head in distress.
Would it not be better to hear Jesus say: "I observed how you handed out the cup of cold water to the parched hearts and spirits living in an oppressed land under a totalitarian government."
Would it not be better to hear Jesus say: "I noticed that you wished to make strangers in foreign lands not only your friends but also your spiritual brothers and sisters!"
Would it not be better to hear Jesus say: "I knew you were with Me when you finally opened your purse or wallet and handed Me a cheque/check, some coins, your last will and testament, and all kinds of other resources that I had given you in the first place to see if you would learn the lesson of faith and live the life of a disciple!"
Would it not be better to hear Jesus say: "I was glad when I saw you correcting the false doctrines that are now being spread around by the devil by showing immature and unsuspecting Christians what the Kingdom truly is."
Would it not be better to hear Jesus say: "I saw how you laboured hard to make the Church into a vibrant, obedient and loving community by giving your all in all the duties and assignments that were given you."
Would it not be better to hear Jesus say: "I saw how you went the extra mile at home freeing your husband for his pastoral duties, sacrificing your own wants?"
Would it not be better to see Him nod His head and hear Him say, "Come, you blessèd, and inherit the Kingdom!"
Do not we, as God's Church, want that benediction? There is no doubt in my mind what brings us together in the Gospel -- it is the sense of friendship and deep brotherly and sisterly love we feel for one another. In the Kingdom we can throw our arms around each other, work together, eat together, laugh together, pray together, and live together. That is why we want Zion. That is why even now we are packing our bags and preparing to leave the world behind so that we can grow together as one Family of God.
Though we have different callings, different Priesthood responsibilities, different stewardships, we are all on an equal footing for we belong to Jesus Christ. He is absolutely everything to us, so we mean everything to each other. That's what our enemies can't understand. They have tried to force us apart, and failed. They have tried to sneak in the back door with false motives, and failed. They have tried to bribe their way into the Kingdom, attack the Kingdom, destroy the Kingdom, bleed the Kingdom, but they have never managed. We are still here. And we are here because of the great spirit of fellowship we share in Jesus Christ.
Our purpose is not, more over, just to have a good time (and we do!), not to do some things in the Name of the Lord, but to do all things in the Name of the Lord. In the fellowship of the group -- the Church -- the Covenant -- we can commonly undertake the callings of Christ, helping and supporting each other in the process, so that one day we can stand before Him, as in Matthew 25, and we will hear: "Come, you blessed. Inherit the Kingdom!"
Do not think that will happen just because you claim, "But I believed in You!" He will say in response to that, "And what did you do with that belief?"
Are you encouraged by the picture that I am painting for you? Do you want such a fellowship? Well, then there is alot to do. A life involving alot of effort lies ahead of you. It is a life of total commitment, it requires that you open your heart, mind, and resources. It requires that you exercise your will-power to the Christ who has called us both into His fellowship and to work in the world in His Name.
So where are you headed, my friend? Where has He called you to work? He will not call you to work alone, but together with other Christians. Go to the Lord, if you don't already know where to go, and find out which Christian people you are supposed to be with. Once you have got the answer give your spirit, soul and body to the work. And if you have been called here, to God's New Covenant Church, then we stand ready to welcome you with all our hearts. But hurry! For the Kingdom is on the move. Amen.
This page was created on 7 April 1998
Last updated on 7 April 1998
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