Mar 27, 2009, 6:38 AM
“Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:10)
If we should take some time to observe our world, we would have come to realise that things tend to operate in pairs - as in pros and cons, good and bad or earth and sky. These pairs represent in essence two opposing positions. Though very closely knit, the two do not mix; they are worlds apart. Our Lord Jesus in his teachings very often underlined these two ‘stations’ urging his audience to take heed.
The Bible clearly mentions two opposing worlds – heaven and hell and there is no gainsaying that. Come to think of it, such information has been provided for our benefit, with a view to helping us make the right choices about where to spend eternity – either in heaven or hell. Heaven is a place for those who were in right- standing with God whilst they trod this earth. Hell is for the rebellious, the proud and the wicked.
To paint a clear picture, Jesus drew a parallel in a parable centred on two actors from different social backgrounds; one was a poor and wretched beggar named Lazarus, the other, a rich, well-to-do but wicked man. In the parable, the rich man showed no love for Lazarus who was “covered with sores,” and who longed “to eat what fell from the rich man’s table” but even crumbs were not made available often, if ever. The rich man hardly paid Lazarus any attention.
Then the tables turned, both of them died. The beggar found himself in heaven, in Abraham’s bosom; the rich man in hell fire where he was ‘in torment.’ There he longed for water to quench his thirst. From a distance, the rich man could see Lazarus at Abraham’s side so he made this humble request: “Father Abraham have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:24) His request was rejected outright on these grounds. “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, but now he (Lazarus) is comforted here and you are in agony.” This was followed by, “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” (verse 26) That sealed and settled it. One cannot transit from heaven to hell or vice versa. Therefore for the rich man it was too late, nothing could be done for him. In desperation, he pleaded for permission to be given to Larazus to go and warn his brothers about the reality of hell so that they could amend their ways. That request was equally denied on the basis that there were prophets on earth that they should listen to.
From this parable we learn that it is important how ‘the haves’ treat ‘the have-nots’ and how we treat each other in general. Our attitudes can go a long way in determining whether we gain access to heaven or hell. God has blessed us so that we might bless others, not selfishly live for ourselves and our families but have some consideration for the needs of the poor and the needy - who also are God’s children. Heaven is bliss and hell is torment. God offers two separate dwelling places after we exit this world and our behaviour can determine our choice.
Our Lord Jesus mentions another kind of separation when he made reference to sheep and goats. Such identification will depend greatly on the type of relationship we have with him. Was the relationship personal? Or was it just posturing or make-believe? The Bible teaches that when Jesus comes into his 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.” (Matthew 25:33)
To those on his right, King Jesus will say: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father: take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (verse 34) Those who qualified as sheep would be those who fed the hungry, gave water to drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, sheltered the homeless and cared for the sick. Done to others, it was like they were doing it to him. “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Jesus, the King)” (verse 40) Here again, good deeds done to others is being rewarded.
From the above it is clear what ‘the goats’ were guilty of. The king did not mince his words; “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (verse 41) As a result of their self-centeredness, uncaring attitude towards the hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick and destitute, the king made this pronouncement. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (verse 45)
We deduce from these two passages that ‘the sheep’ will be in heaven and ‘the goats’ in hell fire. In common day language, people make a distinction between sheep and goats alluding to the fact that it is only odd circumstances that brings them together. In heaven, the separation will be permanent. Which side would you or I be on?
The last word! Jesus is not talking about good deeds and moral behaviour outside of our belief in him, but about actions done because of our faith in him. Jesus said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34)