People often forget that there will be some form of assessment of our lives
MANY students get very busy at the end of the year. It is time for important examinations that they are told will determine the course of their lives. These exams are often drenched with the perspiration of anxiety, both of the students as well as that of their nervous parents. Many students, trying to predict the questions that will appear in their forthcoming exams, study books containing exam questions from past years with model answers. If they had predicted correctly and prepared themselves adequately, it would be smooth sailing. If not, it would be nail-biting despair.
In many ways, life is also like this, is it not? The questions we face become important in determining our well-being, and even destiny. But truth be told, the preaching about these matters is rather thin in church. Or sometimes, like badly or hastily written 10-year series, they are grossly off the mark.
Scripture teaches that “we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” and that “each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom. 14:10, 12). There will be some form of assessment of our lives on earth – an examination, if you like. In their busy lives, people often forget this truth. I have noticed that often it is only when people hear the bell that indicates it is the final lap of their race that they begin to think seriously about the approaching “mother of all exams”. Some try to cram for it. Gross mistakes can be made.
In Mathew’s Gospel, Jesus talks about the “final exam” in two places – in chapters 7 and 25. In the first text, He describes people who had read the wrong books. They answered their wrongly anticipated questions from heaven correctly, but alas, they were the wrong questions. Those questions were not asked. However, like anxious students they answered the questions that were never asked, hoping perhaps to impress God with their answers.
Jesus declared that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
(Mt. 7:21). Some of His keen listeners (and readers down the ages) may have quickly concluded (correct to a point) that whether you get into heaven has not so much to do with how you talk, but how you walk. Not what you have learned to say but what you have learned to do. In their mind they would have quickly drawn up a list of actions that would look good on their CV.
Now that they had a hint, they would have gleefully predicted the questions that would be asked in heaven.
Jesus quickly shook them out of their imaginary exams. He said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ ” (Mt. 7:22). The listeners may have congratulated themselves that they had predicted the questions correctly.
But notice that these questions were never asked. Those who were judged offered answers to questions that did not appear in the script. The listeners could have anticipated that Jesus would commend these answers. But what Jesus said shocked them. “Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt. 7:23). They had obviously prepared themselves for the wrong kind of exam.
The other text in Mt. 25 reveals how the “final exam” might be. If Jesus does ask a question, it might be something like, “What did you do for the least of these brothers of mine?” He would point to those who had been in great need and often neglected in the world – the hungry, thirsty, sick, lonely, imprisoned, poor and marginalised. In fact, in the text, no questions are asked. Instead Jesus would make statements that sound like verdicts. You gave me, you invited me, you looked after me … Come you who are blessed. Where is the exam then?
The truths in these texts that should disturb us are these. Firstly, the exam would have already ended when you step into the exam hall. An employer wanting to hire honest employees planted some tempting “lost” money in the waiting room and watched, through a closed circuit TV, what the prospective employees did. Everyone, except one, helped himself to the money. Only the honest man got the job. There was no interview. Those who had dressed impressively for it and were all prepared to impress the employer were surprised when told that they didn’t get the job.
Secondly, if it is not your talk but your walk that counts, then you may get it all wrong too. Sometimes what is celebrated as spiritual may not impress God. What is sensational in church may not impress heaven. In fact, in Mt 25, those who were commended were not even aware that their simple daily acts of compassion had impressed Christ.
Which brings me to the third point – that the heart of the matter is not what you say or even what you do, but how you relate with Christ. “I do not know you” Jesus said to those who thought they knew Him. To the others who were commended, their response showed that their attention was on their relationship with Christ, so much so that their lives showed the difference. They were not performing but enjoying the relationship with Christ. Their primary concerns were in the right place.
The “final exam” is not in the future. It is now. The questions would not be asked then, but they are being asked now. Often, we live our lives in response to the questions that are being asked by the world. What is your job? How much do you earn? Where do you live? What car do you drive? What do your children do? The questions in the ultimate exam that matters are different. They are not asked by earth, but by heaven.
Beware of wrong and seductive questions (cf. Gen. 3:1). Rather, let your life’s quest be guided by questions that will not be asked in some distant future, but are being asked daily – by God, in the innermost recesses of your heart.
‘Often, we live our lives in response to the questions that are being asked by the world … Beware of wrong and seductive questions. Rather, let your life’s quest be guided by questions that will not be asked in some distant future, but are being asked daily – by God, in the innermost recesses of your heart.’