You are here

28. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: Meet with the Everlasting King

 

Chapter 28

Meet With the Everlasting King

Jeremiah 10:10

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

by Pastor Eric Chang

Joint Camp in Hong Kong

April 21, 2000

 

I would like to thank the Camp Committee and my co-workers for letting me preach in this first message, because as you know, normally I preach the last message. Why did I request to preach the first message? That is because I hope I can spend more time with each one of you during the camp. That may be almost impossible practically, because there are more people in this camp than in previous ones. But you might see me wandering around the camp, because I am hoping to fellowship with you. That is very important to me.

Can you say, “I am ready to meet God”?

Today, we come to a very important subject. We see here in big letters the camp theme: “Meet with the Everlasting King,” (Jeremiah 10:10) and we will have to spend time to understand this theme more fully.

Before I go into the main part of this message, I would like to say a few words about our Sister Sandra who has gone to meet the everlasting God less than 3 weeks ago. It looks like God wants to use Sandra as a way of speaking to us in this camp. When I went to see Sandra in the last few days of her life, I remember she looked at me very earnestly, and she said, “I am ready to meet God.” I wonder how many of us who have come to this camp, can say that we are ready to meet God. Those words brought tremendous comfort to my heart. But in the course of our conversation with one another, I said to Sandra, “You know, I am not very happy with you.” And she looked very concerned and said, “Why?” I said, “Because you jumped the queue. You should wait behind me. How come you go to see God first? I’m supposed to go first!” A smile came over her face. Well, she beat me in this race. Sometimes, I wonder why did she go first, since she’s much younger? I think that it is very likely because she is of better spiritual quality than me in the eyes of God. I think that she was very truly ready to meet Him. Certainly, we know that there was a struggle in her heart earlier on, but God gave her the victory very quickly. When we unexpectedly have to go and meet God, there is often a sense of regret. This also passed through Sandra’s mind, which disturbed her as well. She said, “There are so many things I would like to have done for God, and now I can’t do them anymore.” We know that she even had in mind to serve God full-time, but that was not to be. But our Father knows where she can serve best in the everlasting life.

She thought that being still young, the things she wanted to get done for God will not get done. And the question in her mind, like in the mind of many people who had to go early in life to meet God, is captured in a song, “Must I Go and Empty-Handed?” A young person who, when she was dying said, “Must I go and empty-handed to meet God?” She was so distressed by this thought. God had given everything, and she had nothing to give in return. So someone said, “I am going to put your words in a song, so that others will bear this message in their hearts to use the short life that we have on earth to do something, or bring some fruit to God when we see Him.” Can you live without regret? The worst thing is when we are dying, we regret so many things. Can we go without regret? That is why Sandra’s passing away is linked to this very camp theme in today’s message. It is not just her, but all of us must prepare to meet with the everlasting God.

“Everlasting”: greatness and vastness we cannot understand

What does this theme, “Prepare to Meet the Everlasting God” mean? When Sandra said she was prepared to meet with God, how come she was so confident and ready? When I looked at her, I could see she was very sure. Who gave her that certainty? That certainty must come from God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. But do we even understand what meeting with God means? I pray that the Spirit of God will so work in you that you will also understand what that means. I find that it is truly amazing there is a special presence of God within people who love Him and are ready to go, and people who are not close to God won’t understand.

What does “everlasting” mean? I was watching a program where the topic of discussion was the universe and the vastness of the universe. One of these astrophysicists was saying that he had just seen a special star, using the most advanced equipment. He said that according to the measurements that they have made on it, the light of that star has traveled 5 billion light years to come to earth. A “light-year” means the distance light travels for one year, and the star has travelled a distance of 5 billion light years. Is the number 5 billion light years mind-boggling to you? Do you know how far light travels in one year? Nothing goes faster than the speed of light, according to Einstein. When you switch on the light, immediately, light is seen far and wide in a flash. In school, we even learn the actual distance it covers in one second. When we talk about a million light years as the distance traveled in one year by light, that distance is no longer comprehensible. We begin to hear what “everlasting” means in terms of the speed of light in the universe. Now the God who created this entire universe is everlasting!

In Montreal, I used to conduct a Bible study on Genesis Chapter one for many scholars, who were at the doctoral or post-doctoral level in our church in Montreal at that time, and even now. We had some doctors of physics, doctors of chemistry, and doctors of mathematics. This wonder­ful group of people and I were having a good time together discussing the universe and Genesis. Most of them were non-Christians at that time. What an exciting time of study! What does “everlasting” mean? Well, it seems they have a better understanding of “everlasting” than most of us. Maybe they are used to dealing with these figures of “billions of billions” that we are not used to.

I have problems talking in terms of millions, never mind billions. I remember long ago, when we needed to buy the meeting place in Pai Tau Village, in Shatin, Hong Kong, the price was over $1 million. What kind of figure is that?! I was not used to thinking in terms of millions. I said, “If it costs one million, how are we ever going to buy a place like that?” Well, as you know, some brothers and sisters understood one million better than I did, and they managed to buy the place. “Everlasting” is a figure of greatness and vastness that we cannot even understand.

Understand that we have to meet the everlasting God

What does it mean to meet the God who is everlasting? Can we grasp what it means to meet the God who is everlasting? Well, if we were going to meet the Queen of England, or the President of the United States, we are just meeting a fellow human. You look at this man, he is a president, he is important, but he is a man like us.

Last year, in my travels, I had a chance to meet President Carter in the United States. One day, I surprised the 8th Full Time Training Team when I showed them a picture of myself together with President and Mrs. Carter. They thought it was some kind of a trick photograph. I told them, “No, that is a genuine picture. There are no tricks in it!” What is Mr. Carter like? He is a very nice and humble man. You could say, a very true Christian as well. We met in the church where he normally worships, and where he gives a message at the adult Sunday School. To my surprise, he asked me to open in prayer at that meeting. He is still addressed as “President Carter”, because past presidents are not called “ex-Presidents”. He was once the most powerful man on earth, but when you meet him, you know you are talking to a fellow man, you can relax with him.

But we don’t know what to expect of meeting with the everlasting God. Actually, it won’t be so terrifying if you are ready to meet Him. If you are not ready to meet Him, I think it will be a very terrifying experience. Do we all have to meet Him? Oh yes, everybody has to meet Him! Why? Because we have all been created by Him. You don’t own your life, that is why you have to give it up when you die.

There’s the Judgment after we die, even if you don’t believe

What does the Bible tell us? Hebrews 9:27 says,

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

It is appointed to man to die once. It is appointed, not up to us to choose. What happens after we die? There is the Judgment! Don’t say to yourself, “Everything is over with death. If you have too many troubles, shoot yourself in the head and all your problems are gone.” No, that is foolishness. Listen to what the Bible says. Death is not the end. After death comes the Judgment.

You will say, “I don’t believe in the Judgment. I don’t even believe in God.” So you think you are free, right? If you did not believe that Australia exists, do you think that Australia disappears because of your unbelief? As I have said before, what you believe only affects you, it doesn’t affect any facts. If you don’t believe there is such a man as President Carter, President Carter doesn’t disappear because of that.

Don’t believe in ghosts, then why be scared?

I remember that as teenagers, a group of us used to sit together in a room in the evening, and talk about all kind of things, and we would tell each other stories. Do you know what we liked to talk about from time to time? We liked to tell ghost stories. Have you ever got together with your friends to tell ghost stories?

They would say, “Come on! I don’t believe this nonsense.”

I would say, “You don’t believe it? I tell you what, I saw a ghost!”

“Ah, don’t tell me this nonsense. You really did?”

“Yeah, I really saw a ghost!”

One fellow doesn’t believe it, but as you describe the whole scenario about this ghost, the next fellow says, “Oh, yeah, I’ve also seen a ghost.”

The first fellow still doesn’t believe it and says, “You guys are all dreaming!”

Then each tells his ghost story. Suddenly, one fellow jumps on the guy who says he doesn’t believe in ghosts, and he almost passes out for fright! In fact, while these two fellows are telling their ghost stories, this disbelieving fellow’s face is turning paler and paler. He is still muttering, “I don’t believe all this.”

“So why is your face growing pale?”

“Is my face getting pale?”

Then the next guy jumps on him, and he is frightened out of his wits. He is so angry at this fellow who played this joke of jumping on him. He says, “How could you do that? I could have had a heart attack!”

“You said it would not do anything to you since you don’t believe in ghosts. Why are you so frightened?”

Well, what do you believe? I think many of you have had ghost exper­iences. It is frightening enough! But what about meeting the everlasting God?

My mother who was not a Christian at the time, and who did not believe in anything, told me that one day, she saw a white figure going through her bedroom. She was wide awake, so she watched this figure walking slowly across the room. It then left her room and went into my room. As a mother of course, she got frightened. Why is this ghost going into her son’s room? So she rushed out of her room into my room to see if I was all right, and she found me sleeping very peacefully. What was that she saw? Was it a ghost? Was it an angel? But her reaction was fright. If it is only a ghost, what can a ghost do to you?

Meet God as Father or as Judge?

If people are so frightened of a ghost, how about meeting the everlasting God?

Sandra said, “I am ready.” Why wasn’t she frightened? That is interesting, isn’t it? She said it very peacefully, as though she was looking forward to seeing Him soon, and as though she were going to see her father. Yes, to one who knows God, He is not just everlasting, He is our Father.

I don’t know if all of you in this camp know God. Maybe many of you don’t. There are two ways you can meet with God. You might meet with Him as your Father, or as Judge in Christ, for which there is reason to be scared.

What will be the outcome of the Judgment? How would you feel if you are going to meet God as your Judge in Christ? In a sense, all of us will have to meet Him as Judge as well. That is what Paul says in 2Corinthians 5:10, that we, including the apostle Paul, must stand before the judgment seat of Christ. But if we live in intimate fellowship of joy with God who is Judge in Christ, we won’t have too much to fear. However, we should not be over-confident.

How do Christians prepare to meet your Final Examiner?

The word “judgment” may be foreign to many of us. For me, I have never been in a court of law; I have no personal experience of judgment. Nowadays, you might see a lot of movies about court cases and so on, but most of us have no personal experience of this. You may not have had such an experience unless you’ve studied law. But most of us have experiences of examinations. Most of us have been through primary school, secondary school, and university, so we know what examinations are like. It may be better to say that after death will come the Final Exam. Now how important is this Final Exam after death? Oh, it is very, very important. If you take an exam in school, it is a question of graduating or not graduating from school. If you take an exam at university, it is a matter of getting or not getting a degree. That may be very important for your career, your future—everything hangs on the outcome of this exam.

But what happens at this Final Exam before God? It is the difference between eternal life and eternal death. This is the one exam we cannot and dare not fail! Do you remember how important the final exam was when you were at school? You worked very hard to pass it. Sometimes, when you think about it, what was so important about the exam anyway? You might have the chance to take the exam again, if you fail at academic institutions, but if you fail this Final Exam of the Judgment, you will not be given a second chance! You have to prepare to meet your Examiner, and you dare not fail, because everything hangs on the outcome of this Exam.

How do you prepare? That is the essential point of this camp, isn’t it? When you are taking subjects in college, you know what to prepare. Usually, they tell you exactly what you are going to be examined on, so you have to study for that. But when I look at most Christians, or at most people in this world who are going to face this Final Exam, they don’t seem to even bother. Can you say, like Sandra, “I am prepared to meet the Examiner”? Are you sure you will pass? The cost of failure is absolutely unthinkable! I beg of you to think carefully on it in this camp. The outcome of the Judgment is eternal life or eternal death, and the difference between them is the difference between heaven and hell! Everything that has to do with God is eternal, everlasting. He doesn’t have time for temporary things. It is the everlasting that matters. I ask each one of you again, are you sure you will get through this Judgment, or this Final Exam? The question now is how are we going to get through?

1. Don’t be over-confident that you are a sheep

I began to touch on the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in the Singapore Christmas Camp 1999, because this parable is precisely about meeting the everlasting king. Actually, the scholars point out correctly that this is not really a parable. Using parabolic language, this very important teaching is about meeting with God in the Messiah-King, Jesus. The parabolic elements are simply the sheep and the goats. Instead of talking about people, the sheep and the goats were used to represent them because there is a reason for that picture, but we have no time to expound the details. I just want to stress that according to this parabolic picture of the Lord Jesus, everybody in the church here today, is going to be divided into two types of people: either a sheep or a goat. You have got to be one of these. Which one are you? You may be very confident that you are a sheep, and will pass the test with flying colors. Please wait until I finish this message before you decide whether you are a sheep or a goat.

I had a friend in Cambridge and he was a brilliant scholarship student. (I did not go to school there but my friend did. I was in London.) Now it is hard enough to get into Cambridge, but even harder to be there as a scholarship student, which shows you how good he was. And he was studying engineering at the time. He was so good at his studies that he was a problem to some of us, not because he was hard to relate to, but just because of the fact that he was so good. What do I mean? Sometimes, I went up to Cambridge to prepare for my own exams as it is so quiet, and because it was very hard to study in London where the church was so busy. Once, some of us were preparing for our final exam, but what was my scholarship friend doing? While we were studying hard, he was walking around as if he were on holiday! We said to him, “Haven’t you got anything to do? The exams are coming up. What are you doing walking around?”

He said, “I’ve finished studying. I am all prepared for the exam.”

We said, “That’s nice. How about you leave us in peace so we can get on with our studies?”

He was so confident that he just walked around days before the exam. Do you know what happened? He failed! He could not believe it! And he failed in his best subject. I tell you this just to show you not to be so sure of yourself. The strange thing is, most of us passed and he did not, and he was supposed to be the best of the best. His problem was that he was too confident. The Scripture warns us about this kind of confidence. Paul says, “Beware! If you think you stand, you will fall.” The all-important question is, how are we going to get through this life-and-death deciding Exam?

Let us go back to this parable. It says, on that day of the Judgment, the Final Exam, the Messiah-king, Judge and Great Examiner sits on his throne, and points out who are the sheep and who are the goats. You would have thought the sheep know who they are. He has to tell the people what they are, sheep or goat, because they apparently did not real­ize. Maybe they did not have a mirror, so they could not see whether they are sheep or goat! He points to those who are the sheep and says, “Come to my right side! You are blessed by my Father, because when I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was suffering in cold, you gave me something to wear. When I was a stranger and nobody welcomed me, you welcomed me. When I was sick, lying there in distress, you came to visit me and cared for me. Then when I was in prison, you came to comfort me.” Do you know what? The sheep could not remember that they had done any such thing! They said, “Lord, when did we do such things? Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or sick or in prison? We don’t remember seeing you in any of these circum­stances.” And the Lord Jesus said, “Insofar as you did these things to one of the least of my brethren—one of the least of the people who know me—you did it to me.”

Then he said to the goats, “You go to the left side.” And he said, “When I was hungry, you didn’t give me anything to eat. When I was thirsty, you didn’t give me a drink.” And he went through the whole list of what they did not do. They also said the same thing: “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or sick, or imprisoned and did nothing for you?” The Lord Jesus said, “Insofar as you did not do it to one of the least of my brethren, you did not do it to me.” Then he says the awful words in Matthew 25:41, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire (hell) prepared for the devil and his angels.” They failed the one examination that absolutely mattered, and they did not even know how they failed!

2. Do acts of love to insignificant people—in church, even in the world

The interesting thing is that the others did not know how they passed either. Sandra knew that by God’s grace, she would pass the Exam. The only thing is she may not know how she passed. That is beautiful too! Do you know why there is the Lord Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25:40, “Insofar as you did not do it to one of the least of my brethren, you did not do it to me”? If we take these words incorrectly, you can read the Bible wrongly. It is difficult to get the right teaching these days, isn’t it?

When I was looking at this passage again and again, even last night, I said, “God, show me Your heart in this passage. What do You want to say to us in this teaching of Christ?” Do you know when the Lord Jesus told this parable? He told this parable three days before he died for us. Everybody knows the well-known saying that, “When a man is about to die, you’d best take his last words very seriously.” He is not telling you fairy tales. How do you read your Bible? People say, “I don’t read my Bible. I don’t even understand what it is saying. It’s so boring.” That is sad. If you think in that way you still don’t know what the Bible is, do you? The Bible is where God is opening His heart to us. He is saying, “Look into My heart. Don’t just look at the words, but look at what I want to say to you.” If you read the Bible in this way, you will see that the Bible is very, very different.

What happens if you just look at the words written in this parable? You can draw a conclusion like this: “If this is the case, from today on, I will quickly look for the hungry and thirsty in the church, because I want to pass my Final Exam. I will carry a big bottle of drink on one side, and a big bag of food on the other side. And I will be hunting around in Hong Kong to see where the hungry and thirsty people are, and if I see one, I will be so happy. I will grab him and say, “Here’s the food! Eat it!” He will be wondering what is going on, and you will say, “I want to pass the Final Exam!” When you see somebody not so well dressed, you will quickly buy some nice clothes to put on him. Then you will quickly go around and visit the prisons and hospitals everywhere. After this camp, you will all become very busy people, because you all want to pass the Final Exam. Well, there is nothing wrong in doing all that.

One problem is that in Hong Kong, you are hardly going to find anybody who is that hungry. You are hardly going to find anybody who is that thirsty. You are also going to have a hard time finding anybody who does not have enough clothes to wear. You will say, “God, I can’t pass this Exam because there is nobody to practice this teaching on.” What happens when you take these words literally is that it becomes a salvation by works. You are trying to pass that Final Exam, and that is the problem. We have misunderstood. This shows you that reading the Bible incorrectly can be dangerous, and this will indeed mean that we are going to expect to save ourselves by doing all these good things.

We now understand something that these sheep did not understand. They did not understand that by doing these to every insignificant person in the church or even in the world, they were doing it to Jesus. But now we have the secret. We know that by doing these to the insignificant people, we are doing it to Jesus.

3. You do because you are good

Is the Lord Jesus saying that these sheep were sheep because they were rushing around all their lives doing all these kinds of things? So I waited again on God asking, “What do You want to say to us?” Then I began to understand more clearly that this was not what He was saying. What is He saying through Jesus our Lord? Well, the Lord Jesus has already explained himself in his earlier teaching, if we had ears to hear. He said, “A good tree brings forth good fruit.” A very good tree not only brings forth fruit but also a lot of fruit. Some trees bring forth fruit but not so much, but a good tree brings forth good and abundant fruit! Does that look like your spiritual life? A bad tree only brings forth bad fruit. He even pointed out: “Can you expect figs from a thorn bush? Can you get grapes from a tree that is not a grape vine?”

We have to understand correctly that a good work does not make you a good person. A good person produces good work without any effort. It is the life within that is producing this fruit. He will do these things because of what he is. The important thing is not what you do, it is what you are. A sheep produces wool because it is a sheep. The goat cannot produce wool because it is not a sheep! Let us understand this very clearly. You produce that kind of work because you are that kind of person. In other words, if you run around giving drinks to the thirsty and food to the hungry, that is very good work, but that is not going to get you to pass your Final Exam.

What is more, the question is whether you are the kind of person who would do these things even unconsciously. The person who does good work concentrates on the work he does. The good person does the work which he would do as part of his nature; he would not think about it. When you thank him for it later, he doesn’t even remember. You will say, “Thank you for the food you gave me,” and he will say, “What food?” This is because he is doing it all the time. He doesn’t remember he gave it to you. It is not something that registers on his mind, because he doesn’t concentrate on the work. That is the vital difference! That is why those who were called sheep could not remember that they did any of these things. It comes supernaturally! What they do is the fruit of the Holy Spirit within them, not because they are trying to work these things out of their own effort. These are two totally different things.

4. Not judged by the sin of omission—did not do what you ought

This brings me closer to the core of this message. What is very important to notice is that it is very difficult to prepare for this Exam because you don’t know what is going to be required in terms of the work you actually have to do. Many of these things that the Lord Jesus said is not possible for us to do in this present society. The higher the standard of living, the more impossible it is to do. In Hong Kong, when has anybody been arrested because he is a Christian? So when are you going to visit somebody in prison? If somebody is sick, it doesn’t depend on you to take care of him, the hospital takes care of that. So all you can do is visit the person, sit helplessly beside his bed, and say, “How are you?” If that is what you call “care”, we can do that. That is why I said it is virtually impossible to pass the Final Exam if it depends on these things.

In this parable, it is important to observe that the goats were sent to hell. Did you notice that not one of them was charged with committing a sin? Isn’t that surprising? If you sit there thinking, “I have not committed any major sin—I did not rob a bank, steal, cheat, lie or murder. I am fine! I am a righteous man. I am going to pass the Exam.” The sins that you committed are not even discussed. I stress again, bear in mind that at the Judgment, nobody was charged with doing this and that bad thing, so that the person was condemned to hell. Read the parable again, and you will see this very strange thing. The issue is the right things you should have done. We are willing to do all these things like giving to the poor and so on, but there is no chance of knowing that we omitted doing them in our society with a higher standard of living. How are we going to live the Christian life?

Another thing you need to notice in this parable is that the Judge or the King did not say to the sheep, “You have everlasting life because you believed in God, and you believed in all these doctrines that were taught in the church.” He did not say a word about this. The goats also addressed Jesus, who is the Judge in this parable, as “Lord”, but they have to go to hell. The question of believing is also not even raised with the goats. It is very good that you believe in a lot of things, but do not trust in that to pass the Final Exam. We may think we have the best teaching in the world that we are bound to pass the Exam! Don’t trust in having the best teaching and the best faith.

Notice, there is something that is hardly ever observed concerning the teaching of the Lord Jesus. I would almost like to compare it to the unpredictability of quantum physics. There is an unknown element here. That is what is so scary. In fact, the quantum theory is quite disturbing to the scientists. That is not surprising because the same God who created the universe also gave us the Scriptures. And what do I mean by this? It is precisely the problem of what is called “the sin of omission”. What you should have done and did not do, is going to be the determining factor at the Final Exam. What do I mean by this sin of omission? The goats failed because they did not do what they ought to have done. Keep this point very clearly in mind. Here I am speaking mainly to Christians because I want you to understand that there is this element, the sin of omission, and it is in so much of the Lord Jesus’ teaching, not just in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

Take the Parable of the Talents, which is also found in Matthew Chapter 25, with the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. One person was given 5 talents, another 2 and another 1. What happened to the one who only got 1 talent? He was cast out into utter darkness. What was his sin? Again, notice that surprise element. At the Judgment, when you meet the Messiah-King, who represents the everlasting God, there is nothing cut and dried, so don’t be so sure! That servant was condemned not because he committed any sins—robbery or murder. He is not even condemned for small sins, whatever the small sin might be—stealing a small amount of money, being rude to other people. He was given one talent and he simply returned the talent that he got, so what is wrong with that? He did not lose the talent; he did not steal the talent. He said, “Here master, you gave me one talent, I give it back to you.” It was the same as that of the goats. He did not do what he should have done—the sin of omission—and he was condemned. This is very important. I beg of you to understand it very well because this element goes on and on through the Lord Jesus’ teaching. And for lack of a better way to describe it, I will just call it the “quantum” element.

Then the Parable of the Pounds in Luke 19:12-27 says exactly the same thing. The person in that parable who was condemned was the person who did not do anything. He neither did anything good nor bad. He should have been all right. He played it safe in his own mind, but it was a failure.

Take the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Five bridesmaids took flasks of oil with their oil lamps burning, and went to meet the bridegroom, the Lord Jesus. Did you notice these parables all concern the Judgment? What did the other five do? They also had their lamps burning, but took no oil with them. After a time, their oil was running low. When the bridegroom arrived, there were five whose lamps could still keep on burning. The other five found that their lamps were going out. They would not have enough oil to keep their lamps burning to meet the bridegroom. What was their sin? They did not commit any sin. What happened to them when the bridegroom arrived? They were left out of the kingdom. Did they not have enough faith? What was their problem? Something was omitted. They did not bring flasks of oil, so they did not have enough oil. The problem was not what they did, but what they did not do. Are we understanding what we read in the Bible?

Look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which every Sunday School child knows. Three people saw this injured person that the robbers left on the roadside as dead. A priest came by, and what did he do? He did nothing for the injured man. He just walked past on the other side. The next person who came by was a Levite. What did he do? He also walked past on the other side. They were not going to defile themselves with this possibly dead person. The condemnation was not that they did anything bad; it is that they did not do anything. I don’t know how many things the Lord Jesus has to say to bring out this point before we understand it.

Take the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree in Luke Chapter 13. The barren fig tree was to be cut down. What was the crime of the fig tree? It did not do anything. It was just that it did not produce any fruit. It is not what it did, it is what it did not do.

Another example is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke Chapter 16. The rich man went down to hell. What was his crime? His crime was that he did not do anything. He just did not take any notice of this beggar outside his gate. That was his condemnation.

In the Parable of the Unjust Judge in Luke Chapter 18, what was the crime of the judge? It says there that he did not want to hear the case. It is not what he did, but the problem was he did not want to do.

What does the Lord Jesus say in John 15:2 about the vine and the branches? “My Father cuts off every branch that does not produce any fruit,” that is, that does not do anything.

The sin in the church—your sin and maybe mine—is not that you did a lot of bad things. It is that you did not do, and that is going to be against you on that Day. That is the disaster! Think carefully on this. That is what the Lord Jesus is trying to tell us: “I am not going to condemn you for what you did, but what you did not do.” You will already be condemned for what you did not do. There is no time to talk about what you did. This is a very different concept of judgment from what we are aware of.

Look carefully at your life, brothers and sisters. Will you go empty-handed? The answer is very likely yes. Don’t say to me, and don’t even say to the Lord Jesus, “I was very busy in the church.” He was not asking that question. He will want to know: “What did you do for the least of his brethren?” It is only acceptable if you serve in the church with that attitude of serving the least of the brethren. But never imagine that because you are busy doing this and that, that it will get you past the Final Exam. It will not. I say to some in the church that you are too busy! It is about time that you stop being so busy and get on with doing the things that will count before God.

5. Be born as a new person by God’s holy Spirit

I said earlier that I was looking to God to understand more clearly what He wants to say to us in this message, and He tells me this: “I want a new person in the church, whom Jesus can call ‘my brother who serves the least of my brethren.’” What matters is that person is so transformed by God’s power, that he will let God work through him as Jesus’ brother, to do acts of compassion to Jesus’ other brothers, without any consciousness of his work.

You can call God “Father” when you become a new person by the power of God. The Bible speaks of this as being “born again” by the Spirit of God, or being “born from above”. When you have a life that comes from above, you have become a new person, so you produce the fruit of the Spirit unconsciously. It is amazing how God works when you let His power live Christ’s life through you.

We talked about “Father”, now we talk about “brother” as well. When you are born from above, you have indeed become a brother of Jesus. He was born of the Holy Spirit, as the angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and what is born from you is the Son of God.” There is only one kind of true Christian, and that is the kind born through the work of God’s holy Spirit. This kind of person is called a “sheep” in the Bible, because the Lord Jesus is called “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” in John 1:29. That is how you are his brother. Therefore Hebrews 2:11 says, “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers.”

6. The world can see that God lives in you

I want to tell you something: God wants to take us even further than that. How far does He want to take us? He wants to take us so far that how people react to you will decide what happens at the Final Exam. Did you understand what I said? Probably not yet. Let me try to explain a bit more.

I have been reading about the great Indian servant of God called Sundar Singh recently. I have read about him before, but my attention was drawn to this book because it was written by no less than a professor of the New Testament at Oxford. Although he is a scholar, he is very interested in this person, Sundar Singh. In his book, he shows what a person is like when he is a new creation, who lives in relationship with God.

In one account that drew my attention, Sundar Singh was walking in a place in India. In the distance, he saw two men. After a while, one of them disappeared, and one of them approached him and said, “My friend has just died, and I have no money to bury him. Can you please help me?” Now Sundar Singh was a holy man of India. He was dressed in a garment as a holy man, and he owned nothing. He usually only carries two things on him—his blanket which he uses at night, and his New Testament. He normally does not take any money either. But on this day, he actually had 2 very small coins on him. So when this man asked, “Can you please help me?” Out of his compassion, Sundar Singh gave him his blanket and the only 2 coins he had. These 2 coins were given to him to pay a toll as he had to pass a toll booth later on. Having given him basically all he had, Sundar Singh walked on.

After a while, the man he had given the coins and blanket to was running behind him. When he caught up with Sundar Singh, he said, “Sir, my friend is really dead!” Sundar Singh replied, “That is why I gave you the blanket.” He said, “Sir, I have to confess to you the truth of the matter. My friend and I take turns to lie covered by a sheet pretending to be dead, in order to get money from passers-by. This is the way we make our living.”

India is full of beggars who are very skillful at cheating people for money. They can think of the most unimaginable things, and I have had some personal experience of that. What happened was that for several years, these two men took turns to beg for money with the other person playing dead covered with a sheet.

The man continued to say to Sundar Singh, “What kind of man are you? We tried to cheat you and the consequence is death! Please, please forgive me! I am actually happy that it was not my turn to lie under the sheet today. Otherwise, I would have died. I know now that you are a man of God. Please take me as your disciple.” As a result, he followed Sundar Singh around, and later, Sundar Singh sent him to a mission station to be baptized.

This illustrates to you what happens when you are a person in whom God lives. A person’s attitude towards you is determined by his attitude towards God. We often don’t understand what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 10:40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives Him who sent me.” When a person accepts Jesus’ disciples, he accepts Jesus, whom God sent to represent Himself. It means that a true Christian represents God in this world just as Jesus represented God. Acceptance or rejection of a true Christian will result in reward or judgment, and judgment begins now. This poor man died because he thought he could cheat a little out of a man of God. God struck him dead to save the other man, who repented and became a disciple. Did you ever understand this point, brothers and sisters, that if you are a true Christian, the world can see God in you?

Be fragrance

The apostle Paul said something very important to the Corinthians: “We are the fragrance of life to life” (the fragrance that carries life to other people), or we could be the smell of death to others” (2 Cor. 2:16) This is illustrated exactly by this account of Sundar Singh. Both men came into contact with him, but one died and the other lived. He was the fragrance of life to one, but of death to the other.

Be light

Did you understand the Scriptural teaching: “You are the light of the world”? That is what we are called to be. And on the Day of Judgment, when you meet the Lord Jesus—the Judge who represents the everlasting God—he is not going to ask you, “Did you believe this and that doctrine? Or how many good works have you done?” He is going to ask you, “Were you the light or not? If you were not the light, you are guilty of the sin of omission.” You have failed to be what you ought to be. How important is light? It is a matter of life and death sometimes.

I remember when I was a teenager, I went on a mountain in Hangzhou. I enjoyed the view so much up on the mountain! As I watched the sun go down, I saw how beautiful all the lakes were down below! I was almost in a state of dream. But when the sun went below the horizon, it was dark, and I still had to come down all the way from the mountain! As I went down, it grew darker and darker. I suddenly realized, “Yes, I en­joyed the view, but now I might break my neck on the way down.” There was only a small path going down, but I could hardly see it as there was no light. One mistake, and I would fall over the side of a cliff and kill myself. For me, light became a matter of life and death. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when I finally got to the bottom of the mountain! So when Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,” you are the one who brings life not death.

Be salt

What about salt? Do you think that we are salt just to make some nice flavor for people? The more important and immediate concern in those days is, since there were no refrigerators, people needed salt to preserve things from rotting, to keep things usable and edible. Again, it is a question of either being rotten or remaining intact and usable. We listen to the Lord Jesus’ teaching, but we don’t understand what he means by “You are called to bring people to life.” If you fail, you will answer for it.

As I have from time to time shared, one of the servants of God that I met in Shanghai, in China, was a brother called Brother Yang. God used him to impress deeply in my mind this very truth, early in my Christian life. When I first met Brother Yang I talked with him but on nothing important—he was just thanking me that I was willing to share the room I was living in, at a friend’s home, and that it was his privilege to share with me. These were just a few words of thanks, and then he said, “I look forward to moving in a few days later, and we will have more time together.” That was about all he said. As I walked away after that short meeting with him, I said to myself, “This man looks ordinary in his appearance, but he is no ordinary man.” I could not understand why there was something unusual about this man. That was the lesson God wanted to impress on me. I was walking down the road, and I kept on saying, “This is no ordinary man.” Yet I could not explain in what way he was not ordinary. I did not as yet know or understand the teaching in 1 Peter 2:9, which says that God’s people are a unique people.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

I noticed that there was something unique about this man, but I could not specify. Only later did I understand that this was a man in whom God lives! This was a man in whom the Holy Spirit was manifesting Himself, even when he spoke the most ordinary words. This man belonged to what Peter speaks of as a “unique people.” Sundar Singh was extraordinary, simply for the same reason. When you meet with a man in whom God lives, you know you have not just met with a man, you have met with the God who lives in this man. To me, it was an extraordinary privilege to live with a man of God for several months!

Now let me ask you: Are you the kind of person that you should be—as light, or salt, or fragrance—that when people meet with you, they say, “There is something extraordinary about this person”? If you are that kind of person, you are ready to meet with the everlasting God in Jesus our Lord, the Judge. You don’t have to be afraid of any unknown “quantum” element, because God lives in you now. When you walk into the Judgment Chamber, or the Great Examination Chamber, Jesus will say, “This is my brother” because God has lived in you. He will say to you as to the sheep in his parable, “Enter into the kingdom of my Father prepared for you” (Mt. 25:34).

Meet with the everlasting King: Does God live in you, or do the sins of omission and commission?

Unfortunately, I am sorry to say, most Christians are so ordinary, so below average, of such poor quality, that the difference they make will be death, not life. People who meet with them would say, “If that is a Christ­ian, I don’t want to be a Christian!” Have you met this kind of Christian? Are you one of these? I hope not! That was what put me off from the gospel for so many years. I knew so many of these so-called “Christians” that I said, “If that’s a Christian, I don’t want to be one!” If you are such a “Christian”, you would be guilty not of omission, but of commission when meeting with the everlasting King. You have stumbled somebody so that they don’t want to become a Christian anymore. Are you one of these Christians who lose your temper? Who speak rudely? In this case, you have all the characteristics that even a non-Christian would be ashamed to have, let alone have qualities of God.

If you are in that category, don’t even think about what will happen at the Judgment. You know what will happen. You will go with the goats. Don’t say to yourself: “I am in Disciples Church. I believe all the right doctrines.” That will not save you! There is no use telling the Lord Jesus about Disciples Church, or for that matter any other church. All he wants to know is: Have you been the light, the fragrance, the salt? What are you?

This is the message. I hope you’ll understand now how you are going to meet with the everlasting God, and how you are going to pass this Final Exam. You must become above all things a new man. “The old has passed; the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). One of the things that pains me most, never mind at the Judgment, is the behavior of so many Christians right now. It is so unbelievably shameful that I wonder how they got into the church in the first place! It is so far removed from the Lord Jesus’ description of the church: a city shining as light on the hill. It is a total disgrace! Oh, may God have mercy upon us!

May we be that kind of person like Sundar Singh, or like my friend, Brother Yang, that when people have met with us, they know they have met with someone who walks with God. Such a person, as you saw, will give everything he has in his kindness, even his blanket, the only possess­ion of value that he has if anyone had a need. That comes not because he wants to do good works, but because that is the kind of person that he is: God lives in him!

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church