Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men

by Phillip Wareham

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Now we have been looking at some heavenly things, and looking at the blessings bestowed upon faithful service. We have also been warned about not being ready for the heavenly bridegroom; that we could miss out on being part of the bride. And we have stopped there. We are reluctant to go on any further. But Jesus does, and we must follow. When we read the parables of the kingdom in Matthew chapter twenty four from verse forty five to fifty, and in Luke chapter twelve verses forty two to forty eight, we are shocked at the words of Jesus at the end. He calls one of his servants who begins to, 'beat the menservants and the maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken,'(Luke 12:45) an evil servant, and says that he will 'cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.'(Luke 12:46) This is not the image we like to have of Jesus. That is because most Christians don't read their bibles. Or, if they do, they somehow filter out whole slabs of scripture that don't fit into their theology, or don't fit their idea of Jesus.

When we read the 'Lord's prayer' in Matthew chapter six from verse nine to thirteen, we forget the Lord added straight after: 'For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you: but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.' (Matthew 6:14 - 15) If we harbour a bitter and unforgiving spirit we are in danger of eternal judgment. The Lord brought this home forcefully in yet another parable of the kingdom in Matthew chapter eighteen, verses twenty three to thirty five. We read there of the servant who had been forgiven much by his lord but who would not forgive one of his fellow servants who owed him a very little. Jesus ends the parable with 'and his lord was wrath and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.'(Matthew 18:34) And Jesus concludes, 'so likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.' (Matthew 18:35)

Now just before, we looked at one of the parables of the kingdom that Jesus told, about the evil servant beating his fellow servants and getting drunk. We took the account from Luke chapter twelve, and in that account, Jesus told that the lord would 'appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.'(Luke 12:46) In the same parable in Matthew's gospel chapter twenty four, we read that: 'the lord of that servant shall '.appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Matthew 24:51) Hypocrites and unbelievers share the same dreadful fate: eternal damnation. Jesus was so strong on this point. Read again for yourself Matthew chapter twenty three, and get a fresh feeling for the intensity and hatred Jesus had for hypocrisy. And then ask him to fill you with his same spirit. 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites'. Ye shall receive the greater damnation.' (Matthew 23:14) And concludes, 'Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?'

The Lord was equally as strong in dealing with hypocrisy in the early church. In Acts chapter five we read the story of a husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, who pretended to be generous and openhearted and, as Peter told them, they 'Lied not unto men but unto God.' (Acts 5:4) God's judgment was swift and both lives were cut off. I remember that we were going through the Acts in our weekly bible study, some years ago. We came to Acts chapter five and, after we had read the story, one young brother commented 'I don't think that was a very Christian thing to do.' After I had showed to him that it was not Peter but rather God himself who had taken their lives in judgment, he replied 'Well I still don't think it was very Christian of him to do that.' Now we smile at the thought of someone saying that God was not behaving in a Christian like manner. But in our thoughts we can say the same thing. We can be just like Peter who rebuked Jesus saying that he (Jesus) was mistaken in going to the cross, 'Be it far from thee Lord, this shall not be unto thee,' (Matthew 16:22) or in Acts chapter ten when he was telling God that he (God) had got it wrong about the dietary laws, 'Not so Lord.' (Acts 10:14) If we are to have the mind of Christ we need to humble ourselves and just believe what God says, and learn again to reverence and fear this great God.

The Holy Spirit had been working mightily with the early disciples. The river of life was flowing, many were being saved and added to the church, and there was such a fresh and open heart among them as we read, 'And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which they possessed was his own; but they had all things common.' (Acts 4:32) Little wonder the spirit of God was able to work so powerfully among them. So to stem this river of life, Satan tried to introduce his deadly poison of hypocrisy among them. This was a leaven that would have quickly spread and drained the life of Christ from the church. The Lord (and now Peter working in complete oneness with his Lord) acted swiftly and decisively. The result? 'And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought'. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.' (Acts 5:11-14) The river of life was flowing again.

This is something that God's saints, who are to be in the bride of Christ, must learn to do: to stand with God in his judgments. There are times when we need to plead with God for mercy as did Abraham for the city of Sodom. There are times when we need to stand with God in his judgment as did Phinehas and Peter. May the Lord grant us the wisdom and discernment to choose rightly. Remember it is the bride of Christ in heaven who cries out: 'Alleluia; Salvation and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgments for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.' (Revelation 19:1 - 2) And it will be the bride of Christ who will be with him when he comes to judge the earth and put down all rebellion against him.

Now you might be saying, 'surely this servant who beat his fellow servants is not a true servant of God. He is surely not truly born again. Surely Ananias and Sapphira were never truly the Lord's.' Do not be deceived. The Lord himself calls him his servant, and Ananias and Sapphira were convicted by the Holy Spirit within them, but hardened their hearts and lied to the Holy Spirit. And the promises of God assuring us of eternal salvation? Hallelujah, every promise in the book is mine. ' There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.' (Romans 8:1) And to his sheep who hear his voice and follow him: 'they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.' (John 10:27 - 28) There is no inconsistency with God or his promises. 'For all the promises of God in him (Jesus Christ) are yea, and in him Amen.' (2 Corinthians 1:20)

We are not going around frightened in case we sin and drop into hell. John Wesley put it this way: 'We are saved from the fear, though not from the possibility, of falling away from the grace of God, and coming short of the great and precious promises.' ('Salvation by Faith' preached at St. Mary's, Oxford 18th June 1738) If we sin, 'We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,' (1 John 2:1) and, 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.'(1 John1:9) He is our good shepherd. If we go astray he will correct us in measure, and encourage us back to him. So we should never harden our hearts to him. Remember the 'evil' servant started down his wayward path by entertaining the thought, 'My lord delayeth his coming.' (Matthew 24:48)

Now in concluding this chapter, we should take note both of what Jesus said to John in the Revelation: 'Behold I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.' (Revelation 22:12) Also of what he taught his disciples in Luke chapter twelve: 'and that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.' (Luke 12:47 - 48) So on the one hand, rewards, and on the other, punishments. We are so like those children sitting in the market place Jesus spoke of. (Luke 7:32) So fickle. We like the rewards but don't want to hear about the punishments. Well, we need to grow up and take all the counsel of God and eat the strong meat of the word. (Hebrews 5:12) For it is all given for our profit, and it is all given in love, for it comes from God. In the verse that comes just before the one in our chapter heading, Paul reminds the church at Corinth: 'For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done whether it be good or bad.' (2 Corinthians 5:10)

It will not be what I profess, but what I do, that will count in that day.